Saturday, February 11, 2006

Prayers at the Time of Death

I am waiting, waiting, waiting….

I wrote recently of a relative with a sickness unto death. Bless her heart (and her heart is a major factor in this), she still breathes. She is reportedly ever weaker, but she still breathes. I hesitate to say she is with us: she has not been responsive for some time. But as of the time I write this, there in her hospital bed, with her children and other family around her, she still breathes.

And we who love her wait. I have been present for many death watches. I know from my professional perspective the toll it takes on families. But now it is my loved one and my family. As is always the case, it is different.

I think of her children. They watch and wait, not wanting to leave her and yet having real needs of their own. Things have taken long enough that perhaps they do not hang on to every breath. I hope and pray that staff long ago removed any monitors. It is too easy to be distracted by numbers, displayed in pretty colors. They seem so real, so solid, in the face of the powerlessness of waiting. But they cannot tell us what will happen. They can describe what has happened, what does happen in each moment that passes. But the family waits for what will happen: that moment when her body is finally at rest and her suffering is over.

I am also conscious that I am far away. I am a hospital chaplain, and my wife is a nurse. Surely we could be useful. But the truth is there is little we might do to help, and nothing that we might do that will change God’s time. We might interpret a little here, we might advise a little there, we might provide some comfort. And, sadly, we might become as much a distraction as the pretty numbers, with family watching us watch her, rather than watching her themselves.

So all of us, whether at the bedside or far away, wait and deal with our sense of powerlessness. Events are in train that we can do little to shape and nothing to really change.

I think about what I say to families in these moments. It seems to me a good measure of the integrity of a priest to ask whether he finds comfort in the words he uses to comfort others. I am praying for her and for all of my family as I pray for patients and families: praying that the Spirit may be present to embrace and sustain each of them, not removing the grief but assuring that we do not grieve alone. I am trusting that she is present to God, and God to her, and is experiencing the joy of the Kingdom. I am hoping for the health and wholeness God has for her, health and wholeness beyond our conceiving that is only possible in the presence of God.

AND NOW: I wrote the thoughts above Thursday night. Friday morning she died. Now it is the wee hours of Sunday morning. The waiting is over, the family is gathering, the mourning is begun in earnest. Pray for all of us in our grief. Give thanks for a life lived before God. Share with us the promise of God's Kingdom: a promise to all as God's love is for all.

Rest eternal grant unto her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her. May her soul, with the souls of all the faithful departed, by the blood of the everlasting covenant rest in peace.


Michael Dodd said...

I was with my beloved grandmother when she died a few months after my ordination. All I could do as the medical team worked over her was to tell her we loved her, say goodbye for those who had been pushed out of the room, and pray. I realized later that that is about all we can do in the face of death: tell them we love them, say goodbye for ourselves and those far away, and pray. Eternal rest to her and peace to all who mourn.

Monk-in-Training said...

I am so sorry to hear this. I understand loss.

Fidelium animae † per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace

May the souls † of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace

Marshall Scott said...

Thank you all very much. I am home after a good but tiring experience. I will certainly have more to say soon.