So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
~ John 19:30
I awoke early this morning, dreaming that I heard the voice of one of my patients. There are those patients that I simply "get to know." She has been one. Grabbing some scones I had baked, a few tea bags, and then stopping by a local bakery for some additional sweets, I made my way up the Gulf freeway into the city. I called ahead and was greeted at the door by one of her daughters, handing her the "goodies," and a hug at the same time. I made my way back to a quiet and darkened room.
The woman that I have spent hours talking to on visits is now non-responsive. There is an uncanny silence at this point, creating a beautiful peace. I sat, holding her hand, and describing the day outside. From a cell phone nearby, the familiar piano entrance, and Cat Stevens began to sing, "Morning has Broken." Down the road I can hear a freight train announce it's arrival at an intersection. I suddenly realize that the tone of the horn is in the same key as the song. The gentle cycle of the concentrater in the room providing oxygen seems to keep time with the melody. I realized that I was present for the symphony that the universe seems to proclaim when the Creator invites one of the creation to return.
Recently I gathered with several health care workers who shared of their first "death experience." I shared that my "first death experience of a patient," was as a chaplain in training over twenty years ago. I can still remember the face of the man's wife as she was told that her husband had died in the Emergency Room. It was a Good Friday, a day that many of us as Christians understand to be the day of death for Christ. In this case, the death was the husband of a woman who, like those present on the day of Christ's death, seemed to be overcome by sorrow and shock. The death was not pretty, and if I close my eyes, I can still see the man's face, the condition of his body, the smells and the sound of the doctor's voice as he announced, "I call it 9:14 pm."
I followed the doctor to the waiting area, where we ushered the family into a private room to give the news. The doctor asked that I grab a box of Kleenex from the counter and, "follow me."
I followed without even thinking about what was about to happen. These two words that were asked of fishermen, a tax collector, and others, to follow Christ without hesitation, were now the words being told to me. I followed without question of what would happen next.
There are no words for the sound of grief. Just when you think that you can begin to describe the cry that comes from a place that has no name, you realize that it has deeper meaning.
This morning's death was met by simple tears and silence. Tears that were filled with a sacred understanding that the struggle was now over. The notebook that had been keeping track of medication doses for the past three days was suddenly turned over, and the machine that had been humming when I arrived, was turned off, releasing one last burst of oxygen, as if to exhale in relief.
Suddenly the great mystery of death has once again been encountered, and a new milestone in the life of a family, and one that will now be etched into stone on a grave in West Virginia, will be all that remains from this morning.
"I go to prepare a place for you," and the words, "And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever," cross my mind, but are not spoken. They are words that bring me comfort, so that I can be present for the journey that continues for this family. I am still called to be present. Even as we wait for reports to be completed, and as we wait for the knock on the door of the funeral home undertaker.
"From ashes we are created, and to ashes we shall return," are the reminder that we are created out of mud, met by the Divine.
"The Kingdom of God is at hand." It is realized in one another on days like today. Each day we are reminded to seek God with our whole heart, mind and soul. To not be afraid. To have hope, faith and love. On this day I embrace it all as I leave, get in my car, and drive away to be with another family.
"I am the way, the truth, and the life..."
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
Rev. G. Todd Williams is the author of the book, "Remember Me When..." and is a former hospice chaplain and pastor.