The little living room was crowded. His hospital bed along the wall, with just enough space for his loving companion to stand on the other side holding his hand. At fifty-two, he was dying after ten years of cancer, surgeries, and treatments. Hope renewed was always followed by a new recurrence, each time worse than before. Finally he lost any possibility for healing. He accepted this and arranged for hospice care. Now his family filled the remaining space and spilled over through the wide arch opening into the next room. His two brothers and his mother sat. His sister stood near the foot of his bed. His 18 year old daughter stood the farthest away, near her grandmother.
After briefly greeting each of them, I stepped to his side. “Can I wake him?” I asked. “You can try,” J___ , his companion, replied with a tender, painful smile. He lay on his back and looked to be deep in sleep, that sleep that comes from weakness which overwhelmed him in the last few days, and from the morphine that removed his pain. I bent over to speak to him, coming close so I could be sure he would hear me. I told him my name and said I came to pray with him. I spoke a little louder and said things like, “I’m sorry you have come to this.” He twitched a muscle just slightly, as his breathing changed and seemed to indicate that he was awake now. No flickering of eyelids, just a small sign of gaining alertness with difficulty.
I reminded him of how we sang together only a few days before when we shared in his last communion together with three or four other friends who happened to be present at the time. We had sung “Abide in me, as I in you,” and talked of Jesus being the vine and we the branches. I assured him that Jesus was not going to let go of him even though all of us are letting him go. I said, “D___, these words are for you, since the end of your journey is near.” I read Psalm 23. Then I told him I was going away for a few days. My voice was breaking now. I said, “I know your time is near and this will be my last visit with you.” I told him how much he had blessed me with his friendship, and I said I was going to surely miss him.
At that, a very small tear began to form in the corner of his eye. And then his torso began to shake a bit as when one is overcome with emotion. The tear grew ever so slowly and then slid into a fold just beneath his eye. J___ was watching this closely, her own tears and mine now building. She reached down with a tissue and wiped his tear. After a few moments his tremors ceased, and his breathing returned to that deep slow pattern of sleep.
I prayed a prayer, giving thanks to God for him, his character, his deep desire to serve others, and I prayed that God would hold him with his love, that Jesus would hold his hand firmly when we all let go. I prayed for God’s love to embrace each person in this circle whose hearts were torn with sorrow. I asked God to give us all peace through Jesus name.
When I turned to leave, I held J____’s hand briefly as our eyes met. No words were needed. I shook his brothers’ hands, who seemed to guard their feelings more then the rest. I hugged his mother and his daughter. Saying goodbye I briefly hugged his sister who had retreated to the kitchen, now in tears. She thanked me for coming.
As I stepped out into the sunshine, the beauty of green trees and bushes, the glory of nature all around, I began to weep. My steps wobbled as I made my way to the car. His loss was my loss, and now relieved of the role of a comforter, my own grief shook my heart and body. I managed to see through my tears enough to drive out the long driveway to the road and turned away, knowing I would never return to this place and sing another song with him. My heart now open, its pain flowed out. I screamed a long cry of angry defeat, no words, only the torn language of my grieving heart. He had become my friend only after he was deeply afflicted. And now I had lost that friend.
We must both wait for that day when “he will wipe every tear from our eyes” (Rev. 21:4).
September 2019 © Stan Hagemeyer