This is one of the stories I rarely tell.
I have changed or left out the identifying markers of place, time and gender.
I was called in to consult about an old woman who was dying in a care facility.
Her child made the call.
I had never met the mother.
The care facility was run by a religious organization. It was a place I would have allowed my mother to stay. Praying people all around. A full time chaplain. A very nice and peaceful place.
But this mother was having a terrible time. She was deep into dementia and had not been verbal with family or staff in weeks. Had not recognized anyone in months. She was extremely frail, not eating and only rarely taking sips of water. No one knew what was holding her to this life. Her living relations had visited and blessed her journey. No one knew of any “unfinished business.”
But she was not passing, and she was having intermittent bouts of terror. Screaming terrors. Trying to crawl through the wall terrors. All meds had been tried, none had worked. The child asked me to come and see if I had any ideas. The child asked me to come and pray. They wanted someone cross-trained in mental health/spirituality. I was not at all confident that I could do anything that was not been done, but I knew I could come pray with the child so I went.
I witnessed one bout of the screaming. Way beyond "sun-downers" and at the wrong time of day. Eyes wide open looking into space. God-awful screams. The nerves of the child and the nursing staff were on edge. They had given her all the morphine that anyone’s conscience would allow.
I talked with the child and then sat by the mother. I held her hand - papery and cold in the hot room. We settled into prayer and then I prayed vocally for her. And then she turned her head and spoke to me.
Who are you?
I don’t know you, what are you doing here?
You are right you don’t know me. Your child called me. I am a counselor and a pastor. You seem to be having a lot of trouble.
I’m in between - and I am stuck. Have you ever been to in between?
No, I don’t think so. Tell me about in between.
Oh, you'd know. It’s awful. I can’t some back and I am scared to death of going over.
What are you scared of?
He’s there. He’s telling me to come to him.
Who is he?
(Now, I knew about the husband. A lifetime abuser of women and children. A first degree controller. An actual living nightmare when on earth - now several years gone. I never met him either, but was glad of it)
Is there anyone else there? I asked.
Yes, my parents, but they are farther away and quiet. But I can see them.
(I turn to the child - grandparents, ok? - yes, kind people, dead many long years, child hardly knew them, but loved them.)
Go to your parents. I said.
I’m scared. I scared of stepping across. I don’t think I can change my mind once I choose. My husband says that I have to listen to him, that I need to obey him.
Don’t, ok. Tell him to go away. I’m pretty sure it is safe to cross. Call out for your mother and stretch out your hands and walk to her.
It’s going to be ok.
You come with me!
I’m pretty sure that I am not allowed to do that.
See, you’re scared too!
I’ll hold your hand, and your child will hold your other hand. OK?
And we did
And she took a deep breath and shut her eyes, and never spoke again in this world. She didn’t die for another 48 hours, but she didn’t scream either. She rested peacefully and slipped away quietly.
To her parents, I presume.
Because the cord of Love is strong even when it is thin.
When Laurie was dying she asked me if there would be water to cross (she was afraid of water). I didn't know of course, but I said "if there is, there will be someone to help you". I was surprised that this satisfied her and that she clearly expected to go somewhere.
I wrote a verbatim of this right afterwards, so I am confident of my memory. These are precisely the things that were said.
It is still just one anecdotal account. But I take it at face value. It may be her psychology or an observation of reality. I do not know.
Several things about it bug me, actually. I do not like that fact that her husband could be there still trying to control her. I do not like the absence of God or angels or SOMETHING more clear or comforting for her. I do not like the fact that the loving relations were off in the distance and voiceless.
But this is her testimony.
Two things rise for me from reading this.
First is a story from interpreting. Lately for a bunch of reasons I have not been working very hard to get interpreting jobs. When I was advertising my services, though, I got called a time or two to interpret for encounters between a chaplain and a hospice patient. I have a gift (or something) for work others are squeamish about, but I find hospice calls kind of unnerving. My repertoire of theological vocabulary could be better, even about the basics of Orthodox tradition, not even to mention Jehovah's Witnesses, various flavors of evangelicals, and miscellaneous other strands. This time I was interpreting for a woman unable to speak, connected with an evangelical church. I was interpreting for a Lutheran chaplain. In other words, the odds of a high-quality match for the different vocabulary and theological strands were, um, not as high as one would wish.
The patient was a woman with bedsores, also apparently sometimes agitated and vocalizing. She was on a lot of morphine. The pastor prayed. We both held her hand, not particularly desirable on sanitation grounds. But feeling her movements relax and become less jerky is how I knew at key points that even if chances were pretty good that I had missed the language she was most comfortable with , my words had found their target.
It sounds as though your words were sufficient as to what was needed, and perhaps the persistent tug is also a gift.
Awhile ago I was listening to a radio segment about some women who had left the sex trade. More than one of the women was quite open about still feeling protective of their pimps. Some of what they said spoke to something still trained within them. Something also spoke clearly to them protecting something within themselves, perhaps whatever it was that made / allowed them to put up with / the bad parts of their relationship with their pimps, and maybe in their own way to love the pimps.
In your patient's case, one supposes at some point she loved her husband. What would she have said if asked how they met, what brought them together, why she stayed. People do not particularly get involved with abusive and controlling partners because the partners are abusive and controlling; they get involved because there is something attractive. The fact that this love is rewarded with abuse does not make it any less real. Would it help to ask her, did she love her husband? What does it mean especially to love the part of herself that can love a person like that?
Someone dear to me who has multiple personality disorder speaks of new alters emerging over time as she continues to do a lot of Buddhist meditation. My friend says she figures her first task is unconditionally to love everyone who emerges. Is it possilbe there is something like that here?
In the LIght
Wow. Thank you for getting it verbatim. That makes it all the more powerful.Post a Comment
I can speculate that what she was afraid of was an echo of him, etched in her psyche like scar tissue. But no speculation, no kind of explanation, can add much of anything to the raw power of the experience of just being with her.
Thank you so much for letting us share a little of that.
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