But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
~ Jeremiah 20: 9
"Is this really my life now?"
I looked at the wife of a man who is no longer responding. "If it is, can I ask for a new script?"
These were not her words. They were some of the final words spoken by her husband, who is now my patient. He is now silent, so these words shared with me by his wife have become part of the frame that allows me to picture what this person has encountered, and how he sees his life.
"He has always been a person of great faith and strength," his wife shares. "Don't think that he is unhappy or someone who is not thankful. He has known and shared joy. The last week has just been very hard. I just hope that he will recover enough that those are his last words that I remember."
Years ago I learned that last words can indeed be lasting words. It was just a struggle for her to think that these might be his, "last words."
I think that the hardest thing that I encounter are those persons who seem to have, "disappeared," before their body takes its last breath, or encounters the final beat of its heart. It is staring into the eyes of a person who seems to be looking elsewhere, and tries to understand what is happening. To be able to say, "It will be okay," and to know that somewhere the person, "understands." It simply is heartbreaking sometimes, and is compounded by the knowledge that there is simply, "nothing," that anyone can do to change the situation.
A coworker of mine years ago shared his journey with us when his wife was diagnosed with early onset alzheimers. As his wife seemed to disappear, he would share after visiting her, "Today I didn't see Ann's spirit."
Our ability to be present for one another in these situations can look very different from one person to the next. Living with the "hope," that the person will have one more moment of clarity, offering one last, "I love you," are the only words that those who care and love them wish to hear.
I am reminded that any time that we make the decision to love someone, we are also allowing ourselves to encounter suffering. The wife of the man I sat with this morning said, "He has brought me so much joy, but this part is the greatest source of pain that I have ever encountered."
Recently I was at the death of a man who had been married to his wife for nearly seventy years. As the funeral home removed his body from the home, his wife turned away and went back into the kitchen to finish washing some dishes. She said to me, "We never told each other good bye, and we never watched each other leave the house. It was just our way. Today is not going to be the first time I watch him leave."
The pain of leaving can cause us pain. Whether it is the mind, or the person that seems to disappear, or the pain when someone we love has died.
I am reminded that if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, then we will never know the joy of loving. Love is greater than fear, life is greater than death, and hope is greater than despair. Trusting in the journey is worth taking the first steps to getting to know someone.
I wish that I could say that there was some easy solution to the pain that we experience when there is loss. Any of us can quietly listen as stories are shared, and lives are lived. Perhaps John is right in sharing, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us." (1 John 4:18-19)
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.