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.