I entered my patient’s room for a vigil on a cool May afternoon unaware that I would participate in that person’s beautiful end-of-life experience.
The woman was alone, so I walked to her side and spoke quietly, reciting words from the Scriptures and praying while gently massaging her forehead. After a few minutes, several others entered the room: the woman’s daughter and son-in-law, and her priest and hospice chaplain. A hospice nurse was also present. I retreated to the foot of the bed and joined the semicircle that formed.
The priest approached the patient and explained that he would administer the sacraments of healing. All was quiet as he took a moment to prepare. As he proceeded, we readily participated in the ritual, making the sign of the cross and praying the Lord’s Prayer. Most memorable to me, though, were the words expressed by the priest to the patient: “I absolve you of all sin.” That affirmation prompted a silent collective sigh. All was in order.
Within a short time (was it one minute or two?), the patient took her last breath. We stood in wonder that the inevitable had happened. Death is always a surprise. Yet the priest conveyed contentment, for his prayers had been answered. And chaplain Cary Quigley expressed that the sacraments had given the patient tacit permission to slip away.
Most gratifying to me was the daughter’s amazement and joy over the sequence of events. I’m sure she was grieving, but at that moment she seemed jubilant. It was as though someone had beautifully designed her mother’s home-going, but the coordinator remained concealed. All the daughter could do in the moment was express gratitude.
And I silently relished my sense of joy that I could participate in this momentous moment.
© Stan Bohall, Hospice Volunteer
June 5, 2017