Being Present for the Dying

I occasionally venture into the blogsphere. About a week ago, I found this except posted by Julie from the book, Caring for the Dying With the Help of Your Catholic Faith by Elizabeth Scalia. I immediately copied and pasted it in an email to a friend and co-worker whose father had recently refused treatment after fighting for years against several debilitating diseases.

The Long Tunnel
Some people say the process of dying involves the appearance of a long tunnel through which one passes, moving toward the light. Just as those who report back from a “near death experience” say they felt “pushed along” through a tunnel, you may feel like you are being “pushed along” by circumstances, and unable to halt the forward motion — a prisoner of sheer momentum. You would be right. As the journey’s end nears, there seems to be no further chance to hit the brakes or to pull back a bit.

This is a scary feeling. A new skier would never attempt an advanced trail, and yet here you are moving through this experience at a breathtaking pace. Everything seems out of your control. This might be a good time to make an assessment of what you can control. You can control being wholly present to a person who is dying. That doesn’t seem like very much, but it is everything.

Together with Our Lady
When Mary, the mother of Jesus, was told that her Son had been arrested, her world also began to spin out of control. In truth, you are very much Mary’s companion right now, just as she is yours. What you are living through, she has survived:

  • Just as your access to your loved one is decreasing as their need for sleep increases, Mary’s access to her Son was closed off.

  • Like you, Mary had to stand by and watch helplessly while her loved one took on the “job of dying.”

  • Like you, Mary had to watch the one she loved let go of her to take His leave.

  • Mary, too, had to let go, and to trust that she would see Him again.

  • As you lean on family and friends, remember that Mary had John and Mary Magdalene beside her for support.

  • After Jesus’ death, Mary had to live and eat and worship with an imperfect “family,” some of whom had let her—and her Son—down. It is not really a unique experience, as families go.

Being “wholly present” may not feel like you are doing very much. It may seem like a pitiful amount of “control” for an adult to have over any person or event. But as Mary taught us, being “present” to another person has power. It is saying, “I will be a witness to your whole life and death, so that all you are and have been will remain in me,when you have gone. And I will help you say goodbye.”

Being wholly present to a dying person is a great responsibility, one that requires all the control of which you are capable.

My friend’s father passed away Thursday and the funeral was today. I know words are little help, put some words are better pointers to the Word—the one Word that can and does help.

Father, have mercy on Bill. May he be joined with You and all of your saints. Please bless his family. By Your Paschal Mystery, transform their loss into blessing, and draw them deeper into relationship with each other and with You.