Tonight I had another opportunity to be with someone who is dying.
Every Wednesday at 6:15 we have Taize-style Evening Prayer at my church. Tonight, just before we started, a parishioner came up to me and said she had a friend, an older woman, who has been put on hospice. The friend had a church, but wasn't comfortable with the ministers there...would I come and pray with her? Of course I agreed, and we decided that tonight, after Evening Prayer, would be best.
I followed my parishioner to her friend's house and we arrived about 7:30 pm. The friend, Sally, is dying of cancer. My parishioner introduced me and said I was there to pray for her. I shook her hand, came around to the side of the bed, and ask if she felt able to talk a minute before we prayed. She said she did. I wondered if she could tell me a little bit about herself. She told me she was "happy person." She shared various details of her long life. Said she'd been a Christian most of her life and member of another local church in our denomination for 30 years.
"Before I pray with you, Sally" I said, "I want to give you an opportunity to share any concerns or fears or issues that you might want to talk about with me." Somewhat surprisingly, she immediately said that she was afraid to die. There followed a long and difficult conversation about the fear of death.
It was difficult for many reasons. One, because I had just met her. Two, because it was not easy to hear her--her voice was barely a whisper. And three, sometimes what she said didn't seem to make sense. But the gist of it seemed to be that she simply didn't feel ready to die, and she didn't want God to let her die. She was afraid of the unknown and freely admitted that.
I wasn't sure where to go, what to say, so I let some silence reign for a while. Praying. I thought how likely it would be that I'd feel the same as she.
I asked her about times in her life when she had faced big unknowns and whether she'd been able to trust God then. She said yes, God had come through for her then. Perhaps if she began to think about trust.
She kept asking us to not pray for her to die. She seemed to think that with the hospice people there, everyone was willing her to die. I admitted to her that we, the people in the room, couldn't be sure that this was her time to die. Even the hospice folks, toward whom (it became clear) she bore some resentment, couldn't be absolutely sure that this was her time to die. We're human and we can't see the future. Only God knows. "But Sally," I said, "holding on to the present only because you're afraid probably isn't the best thing either."
Her cousin reassured her. And my parishioner. We spoke of different things.
I spoke of what I knew about fear. How it's no match for perfect love. How she's surrounded by people who love her, how she can choose to let that love fill her, instead of the fear. How she can use her imagination to see herself filled with that love. When I spoke of her will to choose to trust God, she seemed to pay attention more. "I can choose," she said. "Yes, you can choose to trust God. You can choose to love. Both can defeat fear."
She asked me to pray for her, so my prayer was all about love defeating fear. About God's will for her being the happiness that she had spoken of when I first met her. About choosing to trust in God's love for her. About a spirit of calm and peace and joy filling the room, the house, and her body. Things like that.
Oh, I'm hoping it helped her some.
Dear God, please help this sweet lady feel your love. Calm her fears. May the angels of grace sing of courage in her ears and may her heart take flight toward you and your love! May she remember that she is your beloved daughter...