Death Comes

These days I am working as a spiritual companion to the residents of a nursing home in England. I accompany these elders in their day-to-day lives simply by being with them. Some of them are sick, many of them are dying. If they are able to speak we have a conversation. If they are not, we don’t. I hold their hands and feet. I read them books and newspapers. I tell stories and listen to theirs. I pray with them if they ask me or I pray in silence if there is nothing else to be done. It is an enormous privilege to share in and bear witness to a life in these quiet ways.

One of the residents died yesterday. I’ll call her Trinity. I had grown close to Trinity in the last three months since I began working in the home. She was an artist and we shared our love of visual art through conversations about painting and drawing. “My aim in life is to paint,” she told me when I asked her if she missed it. She was seriously ill and had lost the ability to use her hands in any real way and her mind was clouded by the drugs and by her poor condition.

Trinity told me that from her illness she had “learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.” I was speechless. It is not often that we hear people expressing this kind of unspoken gratitude for being sick and dying.

Yesterday, after one of the nurses told me Trinity had died, I went to her room to just sit for a while in the empty space and remember her and say good-bye. When I opened the door I saw that Trinity was still in the bed. I was shocked. I’d assumed the body had already been removed by the undertakers.

I have seen dead bodies before. It is the strangest sensation. The body is intact and yet the person is gone. At first Trinity seemed to be there still. It almost looked as though she was breathing. But then it was obvious: Trinity was no longer there. Where did she go? We do not know. The Great Mystery.

Now Trinity’s suffering has ended. And yet so has her life. A whole life that I know very little about. I only know that at the end of her life she had learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.

We did laugh together, Trinity and I. I did watch her suffer. And I did witness her enduring, day after day after day. There is meaning in this.

I am reminded of a piece of scripture that I have always liked. It helps me to remember that I am not the be-all and end-all of everything: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)

Make the most of it.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I aware of the sensation of being alive today? I will do my best to bring myself into full awareness of my Being.



The Speed of Life

I’ve blogged before about STOPPING when I am running ahead of myself and back in that frenzy of trying to get stuff done. I’d like to expand the analogy further.

I was speaking with a friend yesterday and when she asked how I was doing I said, “I’m on FAST FORWARD and I’m doing my best to get back to PLAY.”

It was one of those statements that just comes out without any real thought but somehow manages to nail the experience perfectly.

Being on PLAY means allowing my life to unfold, moment by moment, without leaping ahead to see what’s going to happen next. Since actually knowing what is going to happen is impossible (for most of us), being on PLAY is really the only way of being that makes sense. I can actually only ever be on PLAY. It’s the thinking mind that tells me differently.

There is a woman I greatly admire called Sister Helen Prejean. Her experience as an activist against the death penalty was dramatized in a film by Tim Robbins called “Dead Man Walking” with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.

The film was based on the book, which she wrote, and it’s a very deep study on forgiveness and unconditional love. I read the book and was so moved by her account, so altered by her argument that I actually started thinking about following in her footsteps and becoming a nun.

Crazy, I know. A playwright who becomes a nun. Stranger things have happened.

It was my admiration for Sister Helen that prompted me to buy a book (the name of which I have forgotten and a quick search on the subject ended up in a dead end) containing a number of interviews with women of faith.

In Sister Helen’s interview she said something that has not only stayed with me since, and it’s been years, but I use often in a prayerful way:

Thank you for helping me to never leap ahead of Grace. Thank you for helping me to instead follow quietly with the gentleness of your Spirit.

That’s being on PLAY. Following quietly, not leaping ahead, letting the moments unfold at the speed of life.

It is not easy to move at the speed of life but I can practice this way of being every time I remember to do so.

Inspiring Message of the Day: When I am on FAST FORWARD I can press STOP or PAUSE and then press PLAY. I can follow the Grace of being alive with quiet, gentleness and awe.