Holding a hand
Some of the most beautiful transactions in the world occur without money ever changing hands. We all know this since we’re regular participants in such transactions. I find it inspiring to remember the particulars of different encounters, if for no other reason than to give God thanks for refusing to let money be a part of everything.
I inched the door open to room 214 over at the hospice house the other night. That’s what you do when you’re a guest in the company of someone dying. You tiptoe in lightly. In my case, I moved with a gentleness that I don’t practice enough in other parts of the day. The hour was late, so I expected my own quiet time with Mary. With no children to her name, and her nearest relative two miles away and in bed at this hour, I knew I’d have the big blue eyes of this sweet 91-year-old to myself. I’d retell a few precious moments of her past, hoping that they might penetrate the fog of her lost memory. I’d pray, as the Spirit would move. I’d sing a hymn or two softly, something I reserve for the dying.
There was someone else beside the bed, however, seated there and holding Mary’s hand. I realized this was going to be a shared visit. Dawn introduced herself by name. “I’m a volunteer here,” she said. “I’ve been sitting with Mary to see if we can calm her down a bit. Come on in. And who are you?” We began to visit. As Mary went through long periods of apnea where there was no breathing, only to suddenly release loud and frightening outbursts, as if desperate to escape a captivity, or cross a goal line within reach – through all of this, it was apparent why Dawn’s presence was so valuable.
I kept thinking to myself: “Dawn is a volunteer. It’s 9:15 p.m. She doesn’t know this woman. Mary is a complete stranger to her except for the fact that Mary falls within Dawn’s larger commitment that signs her on to helping people die in peace. Is this beautiful or what?!”
I left after ten minutes, but Dawn stayed. That’s what she wanted to do. Nobody is paying her for these late night hours of love. The few family members who would appear in the morning have no idea that Dawn was there the night before. But such is the gift of love and service.
“We are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand,” the psalmist writes. Dawn let Mary know that truth of that psalmist the other night, not with words but with the clasp of her own hands. Mary died a day later, free from her body that momentarily held her hostage, but blessed by this dear woman who sat beside her in love.
–Peter W. Marty, senior pastor