It is between 4:30 and 5:00 AM here. I am back in my office after holding the hand of a person who just passed on. Chaplains like me, who specialize in hospice and palliative care do that. We are not called in until the doctors can do no more to treat or cure.
The person I was just with led a good life.
This individual called for my services when entering the hospital floor where hospice and palliative care is performed. The person has been openly hostile to religion ever since college. The reason I was specifically requested for Pastoral culmination of life care is that the individual had friends who had my services. This person knew that I listen, and do not disrespect, challenge or try to change the views of those who seek my care.
For the past few days we spent much time chatting. Mostly, I listened. The answers people seek which work best for them are internally contained. An aggressive listener can dig through the soil of verbiage and find the veins of gold that reside deep within.
As this person faded in strength, there were occasional rallies. When they happened, and I was summoned, we would talk. Nature sometimes gives folks in this universal situation a chance to tie up loose ends, including emotional ones.
In our final conversation the person repeated something I heard all week long. The individual said, "I'm scared". I am afraid to die. I also no longer wish to live. How do I deal with this?
I conveyed that we are all afraid of death. That is normal and healthy. When it makes sense, and for most of life it does, the survival instinct we have motivates us to hang around for better times. Past a certain point, it, like so much in life, has outlived its usefulness. When it does, it is time to move onward and upward.
The individual shared that the ever more intense and unrelenting pain, the degradation of having the world close in, of not being able to control even basic life functions is now an increasing burden. It is like trying to do chin the bars with three heavy friends hanging on to your legs, the person told me. Its too heavy, too much of a drag. I can no longer do even a single chin up.
Lets go with that, I said. If you had a full workout, and you performed chin ups to and past your personal best on your own, what would you do if classmates cling to you so you could do no more? The person replied, I would let go of the bar. I said, Precisely!
The individual smiled. looking at the right hand, I could see the palm open. I held hands. you could see every muscle in the body relax. The culmination of life was accepted. It was now time to let go.
Within minutes, there was one last exhale. Then the pain, fear, and anxiety concluded. They all gave way to peace.