I was called on to listen. As I went over, I prayed that I would be a good listener, that I would be intent, and that I would be able to honor her through my presence. Most importantly, I wanted to validate everything that she said in my words and actions. I wanted her to feel distinguished for being nothing more or less than simply being who she was.
She mostly lives in the past now and easily tells the same stories over and over. On one hand, it might seem sad but on the other, it is who she is now and being able to show appreciation for her stories and old pictures brings her much joy. I had hoped, when going over, that I would be able to deliver to her some joy and peace. Right now, she needs nothing more or less than a few minutes a day of distraction from her otherwise long and grinding day. Being able to listen, affirm, and ask a few questions of interest during the visit would do more for her than any curing medication. A hug and touch of the hand never hurts, either.
I’ve been with people over the years who sensed that they were in their last years and months. Maybe they were elderly or maybe they were experiencing a sickness that they knew would likely lead them to their demise. In either circumstance, I have been able to witness their growing realization that perhaps their time of being here was decreasing and the approach of their time to be there was coming sooner than later. I’ve tried to be sensitive and open to these discussions. And I’ve tried to string the discussions together later in my head in order to appreciate how a person adapts to the idea that their time here is drawing to a close. I’ve seen some who combat this realization and others who accept it with nary a word of concern. But these are the extremes. I suppose we all react differently when we finally begin to know that our time is drawing nigh.
I’ll try to remember and relate a few instances. These are actual and true. I’ll list the “long way out” feelings and the “pretty close” feelings.
“Long Way Out”
1. I can’t go until the girls are grown up. Who will take care of them?
2. I can’t go until the boys are grown up. Who will take care of them?
3. I want to see the grandkids.
4. Pray to God and he will sustain my life.
5. Have faith!
5. I’m not ready.
6. It makes me so angry.
7. I’m not worried about it. What happens happens.
8. Let’s don’t talk or think about it.
1. I want peace.
2. Let’s look at pictures.
3. God has been good to me.
4. I guess there is nothing left to do.
5. I pray a lot.
6. I’m ready.
7. At least my family loved me.
8. God is waiting.
9. I love you.
At the risk of generalizing, I think that people do change their tune when they realize that their time is drawing to a close. My experience has mostly been with people of faith so my observations may be somewhat skewed but I don’t think people of little or no faith are going to react much differently. People generally fight and claw at first but then ease off and seem to relax and find some semblance of peace with the inevitable. It may be giving up for some but not so with all people. I wonder if God has prepared us in such a way that when we sense our end then our minds and souls shift into an after-life mode and we actually begin that trek even before the last breaths are gone from our bodies in this life. I’m amazed at how peaceful a passing comes to so many people. I, of course, am not talking about violent or sudden-death. I’m talking about the kind that comes in at the appropriate time like a whisper – it comes quietly, somberly, and takes with it the last breath of air.
What am I saying here? I believe our outlook on death and the afterlife has much to do with our outlook on this life. And how we accept it ourselves and how we assist others in their approach to death says loads about who we are inside. I want to be able to listen and respond to people in their latter days who are working in their minds and souls on what will happen next. I want to be available to those who ponder their past but now are directly facing their future.
Even as we pass, I believe that our passing births the freedom of our souls. For possibly decades, our souls that were created in the image of God have been housed in and have had to tolerate the physicality of this world. And our souls chafe. After all, they are spiritual and we are not. And they are chained inside of a physical prison. They can behold all of the beauty of this world, but our souls are also subjected to the nastiness of this world, and they can grow dry during their separation from God during this earthly existence. Our souls mourn and ache for more but being wrapped in the finite, they do not get much more than bangs and dents. I actually consider what I will be like as a soul when it isn’t burdened with this old, mealy body of existence.
On a personal note, the last words Regina said to me right before she was wheeled crying into the OR was what I wrote above. I love you. She told me that she loved me. And honestly. This is what I live with now. It’s my energy. I’m thankful for her passionate but understanding will to live. But I’m especially thankful for her concern for me as she faced her unknown.
May I listen better.