last concerns

Many moons ago, while I was doing my counseling training, I had the most wonderful opportunity to work, one day a week for two years, as an intern under the direction of a caring hospice chaplain in a small hospital located in one of the poorest areas of a larger city.  My assignment was the oncology wing and, as my mother had recently died of cancer, I felt a deep level of empathy for these patients and their families.

“Privileged” is not a word worthy enough to describe how I felt at the end of the day, when I had been given a gift of precious “last minutes” with ones about to leave this world.

My chaplain was clear when he stressed that, to be “present” with someone, whatever their circumstance, you had to be there for their agenda, not yours.  The Greek word for “counselor” is paraclete, “one who walks alongside.”  Not someone who pushes from behind, or who runs ahead and tells them what to do.  This was a lesson well learned.

When it was possible to visit for a few minutes alone, very few patients wanted to talk about dying.  For most it was just a matter of days or hours, and they were at peace.  They either had a belief in Heaven, or they felt they would just be falling into an eternal sleep.  Their concerns were for their family members and other loved ones they knew would struggle with their death.  At times the dying would share regrets of a broken relationship with a child, or a desire that they could see their family members reconcile.

Some wanted to tell me about loved ones already “gone ahead” and how much they longed to see them.  Others, in the very last hours of dying, would speak directly to the loved ones they could “see” by their bedsides. I sat quietly in tears one afternoon as I watched an elderly lady reach up her wrinkled and terribly thin arms as she called out “mama, mama.”

While the family members quietly waiting around the bedside had many questions for me as to whether there was life after death, or fear of life on earth without this loved one, the dying ones had only concern for their families.

Kerry Egan, a young hospice chaplain in Massachusetts, has written a good article on My Faith: What People Talk About When They Die.   She writes, “We don’t have to use words of theology to talk about God; people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully – just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.”

 When I read her article, I saw a younger version of myself, and was angry at the way she had been treated by an ignorant professor.   This compassionate woman is doing what she has been “called” to do.   God bless her.

3 thoughts on “last concerns

  1. Thank you Morven. Beautiful.
    While I am hesitant to say any more, because your piece was so pure and touching, I’ll share a little of my own experience. I used to work as a nurse in an acute hospital. One day a patient of mine, an elderly lady, was moaning and shuddering. I went up to her and saw a well-thumbed Bible beside her bed. I knew she was a believer. I had only a moment before I had to go back to another patient and I simply laid a hand on her and silently prayed to rebuke whatever it was that was tormenting her.
    When I came back to her after having dealt with the other patient, she was peaceful and calm. I sat beside her and quietly spoke with her. She said “I’m so lonely.” I said “I know you feel terribly lonely, but I’m a Christian like you are and I want you to know you are not all alone among unbelievers here in this hospital.” I prayed very quietly, so the person in the next bed couldn’t hear me. While I was praying her face became almost beatific and with eyes closed she seemed to be looking up to heaven and she said “I love you!” I knew who she was talking to. I felt privileged to be almost in the Throne Room with her and our Lord. Then I quietly sang the first verse of “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

    Then, as these things always work, at the end of the song a doctor walked in and without any jerk or disjunct I was able to talk as a nurse to the doctor about the patient’s condition.
    I always find God protects those precious moments. He gives us the exact bubble of protected seconds of privacy that are needed to do the spiritual transaction, then everydayness comes in again.

    • Thank you, Barbara. That is so dear. You were placed in the right place at the right time. Bless you for sharing. M

  2. Pingback: Have You Had THE Conversation? Here is mine… « Namaste Consulting Inc.

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