His breath was short and shallow, his eyelids sealed shut over unseeing eyes. His large dusky hands lay flat and quiet against the crisp white sheets. The dying man was tall, very tall, filling the Hospice center bed from Headboard to foot. How tall, came as a surprise. I had never seen him horizontal before. He was resting, but not restful. There was a decided lack of “ease” in his quietness and a sense of physical tension, as when we anticipate some adverse experience.
I had seen him last a few days prior. He was a “new admission” then, a few hours into his inpatient scenario, and this new environment seemed well outside of his comfort zone. He sat upright in the bed, his hands folded in his lap surveying the array of small cups of various appropriate liquids. He spoke some half-hearted thoughts about “getting better to get back home,” but the words seemed to drop from their own weight onto the floor. Despite his “fish out of water” demeanor, on that day, he still carried his air of pragmatic self-sufficiency. We did some Reiki, chatted a bit. He said the Reiki helped him feel stronger… for a while.
Weeks ago, he had shared his loss of confidence in the medical community at large, and one doctor in particular. A botched surgery many years ago, the first of many, had permanently damaged his independence. He told his story that day with no attempt to evoke sadness or sympathy. There is no surprise then, that he would deal with this next turn of events with the same private courage.
We had met six weeks ago in the living room of his son’s family home. I remember the bright sun blinded me for a moment as I stepped into the cool dim room. His lengthy limbs were held tautly. He contained himself to the center pillow of an overfilled sofa draped with multiple, soft, comforting throws. This was new; this living with family. It struck me, that despite his raspy breath, and obvious weakness, it was this lanky being’s intention to be as unobtrusive as possible.
It quickly became clear that was his families’ intention to be as caring as possible. I noted the grandson in the yard with two leashed, barking dogs. He was keeping them quiet for Grandpa’s visitor. His son had anticipated, and queued up some soothing Reiki music with a quiet ocean vibe. His daughter in law welcomed me with a hug, and a heart so open and available that it overflowed into the overgrown yard from the open front door. I had stepped over the unfinished irrigation project and around half-planted pots of annuals. Garden tools lay discarded in the walk, as if a “regular day” had been interrupted by a phone call that changed everyone’s life. Priorities change in a heartbeat at the end of life.
On this day, it was clear from my doorway vantage point that he had finished his life’s work here. He had, in his 84th year completed his navigation around his personal wheel of life. He was clearly waiting at the terminal for whatever comes next. I looked into the faces of his children and felt the gut grabbing wave of child-like panic that chases and clings to a dying parent. A bareback ride down a steep trail on a wild horse feels safer than this new reality. They had been here many hours and their wild horses were ready to bolt.
But it was not a day for fearful panic, not when loving sadness would be so much more appropriate. I padded back down the corridor to where I had seen a most precious resource of this Hospice Center. She is a virtuoso of life passages and she was standing at the front welcome desk, smiling her smile as I had entered the building. I asked for her help and we trotted back to his room.
Smiling at the son and daughter in law she went straight to him. She breathed in the situation for a moment and went straight to her work. She touched his hands, and his heart with the gentle knowing touch of a Reiki Master worthy of the title. She cradled his head, touched his cheek with such tenderness that I, standing at his feet, could imagine he was a tiny baby, and this was his Mother’s hand.
Tiny creases of tension melted from around his eyes. A gentle sigh caught in his throat. Her focus on the dilemma of his passage was so infused with palpable compassion and love that my ears began to ring with, “All is well, all is well, all is well.” I thought for sure I heard singing. It was like being suspended in the space between inhale and exhale. He was awash in comfort and connection, I think we all were.
She broke the spell with a brilliant smile at his son. She crossed the room, placed a hand on his shoulder with an indisputable suggestion that they go outside for a while, take a walk in the sunshine, go look at the trees. Due to her diminutive stature, his seated height, and her standing was about the same altitude. He looked in her face, thanked her for coming, and did what she suggested.
“Stay with him until they come back in.” She said to me, as she gave me a kiss on the cheek and nearly galloped back up the hall to her next mission. Hospice workers, Employees and volunteer folk across the board talk about the privilege of helping when human beings and their families make their transitions at the end of life. There is another perk; sometimes the people that come to help are magnificent beings and we get to learn from them.
I have seen this small woman dish out wisdom and love so full of grace that the recipients spun around and dropped their facades before they even knew what hit them. She talks softly, with strength and integrity. She has spent her golden years GIVING of herself, to whomever appears. I asked her if doing all the Reiki and the volunteering has kept her so young?
“I just enjoying doing things for other people.” She said.
She’s turning 100 this week. Think about how many lives she has touched. Imagine the comfort she has brought to those in turmoil. Yes, she is a particular miracle. I think the real magic is not that she CAN do so much for others, but that she chooses to spend her life in service to other people.
What kind of a world would this be if everyone did this? What if we all spent our elder years being elders, helping out, being available? Can you imagine the possibilities!!??
As is usual for you Carol, a great story. I hope when my time here is done, to have an experience like that. My own near miss wasn’t anything like that, it was terrifying. But I’m still here, plastic eyes now, and a pacemaker the doc says when I asked him the morning he was putting it in, if he could get another 25 thousand miles out of this beat up old carcass, he said I’d have to drive awful slow as it has a 10 year battery. But in my later years I’ve made it a habit to not drive any faster than my angel can fly. And I know he can make 100mph!
Put all this a book someday.
I like to think that the time to really leave the beat up old carcass is when the angel in front of you stops fast. Your comments are precious to me, I hope to someday live up to your encouragements. Thank you my friend
Per usual, your writing inspires us all. Very insightful and meaningful.. Thank you..
Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!
No words. Just a thank you. You remind me why I am here.