Words at the end of Life

In the 12 years of doing marketplace ministry, I’ve now had more experience doing bedside visitation at the time of impending death and loss.  It has always felt like an honor to listen (when possible), pray, and bless during this time.

The other day, I went to visit a 91 year old man in his home.  He lives in my “parish” (about 3 minutes from me).  He was recently diagnosed with brain and lung cancer.  He is now receiving hospice care.

During the visit, we were getting to know each other and I heard him say, “I’m in misery and pain, I feel useless, and I’m ready to go.”  His words were sincere and even apologetic for saying he was ready to go.  I was moved by his words and feelings, asking that God would help me to listen attentively, and also hoping to see how God was present.

I was compelled to ask Rich (pseudonym) to give a young buck like me some advice for life, noticing that even at 91 and sick, he was sprite and caring.

Rich said,

Be nice to others.  Be good to others.  It will come back to you.

If you have family, love them and spend as much time as you can with them.

Always work on yourself and never stop growing.  I never went to college but had one of the highest positions in my naval department that a civilian can have.  One door closed, and another one opened.

I’ve had a lot of ups and downs but I’ve tried to keep getting back up when I fell down.

He went on to share some more stories about his life that made it feel like he did the best he could to be caring and loving.  The tone was hopeful and bountiful in the room.  This is isn’t always the case.  Some people have lived tough lives and for reasons beyond me, it was hard for them to put their lives together in such a way that their death could give life.  It saddens me when I see this and am moved to ask for God’s mercy for the person, but also for myself so that I might see my life put together in a such a way that it will bless others.

We talked about how Jesus, at the moment of death, committed His spirit to the Father, and breathed His last breath.  I think Rich was comforted by this image of Jesus. Rich is Catholic and was deeply touched by his faith.  When I asked what prayers he might have in his heart, he immediately said, “the Our Father”.  I reached out for his hand and began to pray for God’s mercy and peace to be with him.  And then we both prayed “The Our Father” together.  His 91 year old voice.  My 39 year old voice.  A man at the end of life.  Me in the middle of life.  Him a Catholic, having lived a good life.  Me, a follower of Jesus, trying to learn to live the good life.  Both hands clasped together, incarnating the Body of Christ.

I think that when visitations go well, both patient and priest feel like each has been blessed by the other.  Both feel God’s presence and consolation in different but unitive ways.

His thoughts on being good and loving your family struck a chord in me.  My parents had just finished getting on the train to head back home after a weekend visit.

Rich, thank you for your life of service and your words of blessing.

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