I entered her room with the knowledge that she had had a heart attack. She looked like she was improving. Even though she looked okay, the shades were drawn and the room was dark. That should have told me something, but I forged ahead. She pointed out that I had visited her before in another hospital. Soon, she began to tell me her story which I summarize here:
She began about her kidney failure, with a fistula in place (in order to assist with dialysis), but now doctors aren’t going to do dialysis or any heart surgery, since they found a heart valve problem. At her age of 88, “they aren’t going to do anything. I’ve survived cancer, lived with lots of health problems, but now they can’t fix me anymore. I’ve been put on hospice and now I’m ready to go.”
I realized that this was more than a routine hospital visit. This woman, this servant of God, was saying goodbye. She began to give what grief experts term “life review.” I have learned in my fourteen years as a hospital chaplain that if we will just listen long enough, we might be privileged to hear an incredible life story…that life counted for something…‘why I am here, after all.’
So, I just sat and listened, nodding from time to time, to let her know I was paying attention. She spoke of being a charter member of her church. She rehearsed her stories of her love for her husband, now deceased. She smiled as she told about moving back to Temple, Texas, “three times…but, the last time I came alone.” There was a gleam in her eye as she discussed her love for her children, saying, “I raised them all to be believers in God…I did my best.” Thinking about her family, she chuckled when her son-in-law told her that the Do Not Resuscitate order depicted on her wristband, “DNR”, meant ‘Democrat, Not Republican!’ “I told him that’s surely NOT what it meant!’”
Finally, she shared her love of church. Her eyes sparkled as she recalled visits from elders, church members and favorite preachers who had come not just once, but many times to check on her. The conversation concluded with her love for God and a forward look toward heaven where, as she said, “my husband and a son are waiting.” Family. Friends. Church. God. These were important markers in her life.
Desiring to say something helpful, I shared I wished for a magic wand to take away her pain. Sensing some anxiousness in my voice, she reassured me, “It’s going to be okay, for I know I’m okay with God.” I thanked her for allowing me the privilege to sit with her. She reached for my hand, and together we prayed for her courage, for her faith, and for being a blessing to others and to her children as she looked forward to going home to heaven.
As often happens with someone who is nearing death’s door, I sensed God’s presence while talking with this great faith pilgrim, to spend a moment with her at the end of her journey. I was invited into her sacred space, with an invitation to see the face of God.
Thank you for helping Lifeline Chaplaincy to be present in such powerful, holy moments.
By Tom Nuckels, Director of Spiritual Care, Central Texas