A Gathering Voices post by Beth Pyles
As you lay dying, of what shall we speak? As pastor, I am charged with the challenge of comfort and the duty of soul-care. I am a guest and thus, even dying, you remember the obligations of hospitality – “Would you like something to drink? Have you eaten?” How often you, unable to rise from your bed, offer me the traditional kindnesses.
But the more I come, the less these things occupy us as we get down to it – the dying, the thing in the room so few in your life are willing to name. And that, perhaps, is why I’m here: to listen to it all, to not cringe away, not scurry away from the pain of watching.
When we do speak, we speak softly – you because your breath is easing away, me because I know the noise hurts you – and you tell me the important things: who you’re waiting for – the last visit that must happen before you can go; what you would wish to be remembered for; how you love the sun on your face; the people you hope to see once you get there; what you’ll miss; what seems like unfinished business.
These quiet confidences exchanged are their own form of prayer, but we do that in the usual way too. I ask you for what we should pray. And as the days and hours count down, we move from the prayers for the easing of pain to the prayers of release – ‘let me go Lord’, for the waiting has become its own pain and you are so very tired.
That’s when we cry together, you and I. Spoken words have, by now, largely slipped away into silence and the language we now speak is that of touch.
As you lay dying and I sit at your side, the caregiver slips from the room – to give us and themselves a moment, a respite. And so do I take on the duties of nurse, giving you a sip of water for your parched lips, moving you to ease the pain on one side or the other, placing the cool cloth on your brow. In these moments there is only silence and your soft moans as I silently pray that the ministrations to your body provide comfort for your spirit.
And when you slip beyond the bounds of language and words, I pray as if I’m speaking to as well as for you. And then even that language slips away and I simply sit, the silent witness to a life that matters, watching, pacing, your every breath, each coming more slowly than the last.
With your last breath, I remember the you that I knew, all of you, but especially these last days, hours and moments – the prayers and the singing, the Bible reading and reciting we did together, the laughing and the tears, I remember them all and make my silent promise to you to carry them with me – these memories – always.