Monday, February 22, 2016
It all began, this vigil-keeping, with my husband, Carl- keeping
watch as leukemia ravaged his young, once-healthy body, robbing
us- me and our children, family and friends- of this caring, lovely
man far too soon- me, thirty-three, him, thirty-seven...watching
that last week as fevers raged and chills convulsed and so little of
him- the him that had been, the him that I loved- remained... my
sister, Susan, keeping vigil with me until, exhausted, I slipped into
sleep, only to be awakened by his final ephemeral kiss good-bye,
(did I only imagine it?) even as Sue was shaking me awake to say
he'd gone, Death welcome as it slipped silently through the door.
Countless Hospice patients later crossed my path, inviting me to
share their journeys home, honoring me with their trust and an
awareness of Holy Ground each time I sat and held a hand, soothed
a brow, wept with a spouse or child- holy vigils all.
Then there was Mary, my dear friend, who would not allow me to
come near the end of her journey with breast cancer. "I don't want
you to see me like this," she protested. Instead, the phone became
my vigil-post, long daily conversations about her fears and faith,
hopes and doubts and questions...regrets about taking that last round
of chemo, at leaving her beloved Henry, her parents, her horses, her
many friends, her church... about her gratitude and anger, about
feeling simultaneously thankful and bereft for what had been and
what would never be...her voice growing daily weaker and more
thready until at last, the phone call came..." Mary died today," and
my vigil ended.
Years passed, and this pastor was called to many bedsides, sat
with innumerable families, held beloved hands as dear souls breathed
their last, offering blessing and comfort as I could, though most
often, I was the one being blessed.
Then one day came the call from my cousin, Mark. "Linny, I can't
do this by myself," and so I went to be with Uncle Dean, sat by his
hospital bed those last few days making sure his pain was managed,
his room was quiet, and he was not alone... sleeping stretched
between two chairs when I slept at all... comforting my cousin, an
only child, as he became an orphan- his mother gone many years
before... keeping vigil as my dear uncle finally eased out of this life
to join his beloved wife in that place where souls meet and rejoice
in the reunion.
And far too soon, going to Mark's bedside, his failing liver no
longer able to sustain his life, abused by years of alcohol and
sadness...another vigil beside the bed of a man far too young for
such a fate... jaundiced skin and eyes, restless heart and mind...
and I could only watch and wait- and pray for tender mercies until
the end, Death once more a welcome guest.
And now, another most-unwelcome vigil, keeping watch as a
dear younger sister makes the journey from this life to that place
where we cannot accompany her, those of us who wait- though I
know she will not go alone. Countless loving souls await to line
her final pathway, faces alight with joy and welcome, while here,
my vigil will come to an end, and I will breathe a last "good-bye"
with tear-stained face, even as I wish her traveling mercies and
Godspeed, with all my love.