Friday, October 30, 2009

Placing the Pall

I've been reading "Death & Dying, Life & Living" as I study for my upcoming Thanatology certification test. The book is a great overview and I would recommend it to anyone interested in end of life issues. I wanted to share a section that struck me in an unexpected way. The authors were defining the word palliative.

"Originally, "to palliate" meant "to cover with...a cloak" (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989, vol. 11, p.101). This meaning can be seen in the practice of covering the casket at a funeral with a cloth called a "pall.""

This is nothing new in itself but reading anew where the term "pall" comes from took me back two years. A few days after my great-aunt Teresa died, my grandparents were busy finalizing the funeral arrangements. I was at a track event from one of my youth group girls and I remember it being an unusually chilly Saturday for April. Somehow I had the foresight to turn the volume on my cell phone, as I typically keep it on meeting mode. I was sitting in the bleachers with my co-leader while we waited for the meet to begin. And then my grandma called me and asked if I would like to place the pall at Aunt Teresa's funeral. I was very honored to be asked. We chatted a little longer and then said we'd see each other the next day at the visitation. Until reading the above passage, I hadn't thought about that phone call since it happened. I realized it was the last time my grandma called me. She was diagnosed with stage III multiple myeloma a week after Teresa's funeral and died a month after that. I spent countless hours with her between that phone call and her final moments. But there's something about that phone call that is so precious to me, even though I couldn't tell you what else we talked about or how long the conversation was. She called with a special purpose. She called to thank me for the ways I helped throughout Teresa's time on hospice and the day she died. And she probably ensured that I wasn't driving while I talked on my cell phone- one of her biggest concerns, second only to whether or not I had a sweater or coat to keep me warm in cold temperatures. Ironically I remember little about placing the pall at Teresa's funeral. I might have handed it to the priest and then a few of us placed it on the casket. I do remember feeling odd about playing a part in a Catholic funeral since I and my immediate family are not Catholic. (Imagine how I felt when I and my cousins Clara and Emily carried the elements to the priest at Grandma's funeral! I can assure you we did not partake.) I haven't allowed myself to write much about my Grandma's death but lately I've been flooded with different memories. Maybe that means it's time to write now what I couldn't write then. My grandmother radiated love and I miss her. I am thankful to remember this forgotten moment.


T. J. said...

Thank you for sharing this bit of "history" and your story, as well.

Christian Sinclair, MD said...

This post was featured in the November 2009 edition of Palliative Care Grand Rounds!

Congratulations and thanks for contributing to the palliative care blogosphere.

Great post Leigh. You have been writing up a storm lately. Sorry I have not been commenting more lately.