Last week I wrote about a dear friend who was facing the end of her life as a result of a long battle with brain cancer. It seemed the end was imminent, and I lamented not doing more or praying more or saying more to her and her family. Not really sure what it was I thought I could do, since I felt powerless in the face of what seemed inevitable.
But it wasn't inevitable. My friend, who, we were told, might not live through last weekend, has now lived through this weekend as well.
And thanks to the example of our mutual friend Joyce, I found something I could do.
Yesterday I went to the hospice where she is staying and visited with her. She was conscious and alert but tired. She happened to be alone when I got there, and she was watching Catholic Mass on TV.
She has a lot of trouble speaking, so it was hard to make out much of what she said. But one unmistakable catch phrase punctuated most of her comments. "So, what are ya gonna do?"
Good question. We visited a few minutes and I thanked her for the help she gave me and my colleagues when we started working with her a few years ago. In a fast-paced office, where we were consultants coming in to do a large business transition, she cared about us. Our comfort. Our equipment. Our location.
Instead of the indifference we usually encounter in most of the places we work, this unique, wonderful lady, who had plenty of other work to do, took inordinate time and patience to make sure we had what we needed, from network connectivity to computer monitors to directions to the bathroom, and everything in between. She did everything with a smile and an energy that was infectious and appreciated.
We became friends. It occurred to me the other day that, had the situation been reversed, she would have been in to visit me and would definitely have prayed for me.
Yesterday's visit was short - only about 20 minutes - but I think I was able to help. I thanked her, complimented her, and even joked with her a bit. I also told her that she was one of God's favorites, a truly good soul, one who would receive a standing ovation and wild celebration when she arrived in heaven. She seemed to like that.
The last thing I did was to pray with her. At each stopping point, she nodded and said, 'Uh huh.'
When I was still trying to decide whether to visit, my wife pointed out that so many people who are in this situation are left unvisited because their friends 'don't know what to say' or they 'can't bear to see them like this.'
I am never going to suggest that it's easy. It's not. But it's also not about you, even though you get arguably as much out of the visit as the person you're visiting.
Also, we are called:
'For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.' 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (emphasis mine)
It seems that it was the encouragement and building up that I was able to accomplish. It felt really important to do that. I'm so glad I did. My feeling, sad as this situation is overall, was one of joy. Joy that I know her. Joy that I was able to visit her. Joy that I was able to tell her how special she is.
I don't know how long she has left, but God willing, I will visit her again. If not, I will certainly see her again one day, when my race is over and she is waiting with so many others at the finish line.
If you find yourself with an opportunity to visit someone who is seriously ill, I recommend you take it. Don't overthink it, because if you do, you will convince yourself not to go.
When you go, don't feel funny if you have nothing to say. Just say something like, "I wanted to come and keep you company for a while." If they can talk and want to talk, listen. If they can't talk, tell funny stories or share happy memories you have together.
If you feel comfortable doing so, say a prayer with them.
If you don't, say one to yourself. Thank God for your friendship, your memories, and you opportunity to make their day a little better. You've been blessed.
God bless you.
Jim Donaher is an author and blogger from Massachusetts. He recently published his first book, "Call Him, He's Home: A Regular Person's Guide to Prayer", now available on Amazon. Click on the title to take a look.
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