Thursday, April 13, 2006

Standing on Holy Ground

I stood on holy ground. Gathered around Mary's bed were her husband, children, and sons and daughters in law. And me.

I arrived at 11 AM. I'd visited Vernell at Jackson Hospital. She had returned to the hospital in her ongoing battle with cancer. We'd had a long visit and when I left I called to check in with the office. Before I made it to the next stop, Hialeah Hospital, my secretary was calling me to tell me that Mary Jean had called to tell us that her mother was dying.

I went to the 6th floor to find one of Mary's sons in the hallway. Jay told me, "Mom's getting ready to pass away."

We walked to the bed in the intensive care unit. I spoke to everyone for a few minutes, and then had prayer with the family gathered around the bed.

There is nothing more that can be done for Mary, and she is returned to her semi private room so the family can gather around her.

We wait.

At times her heart rate slows to 30, and there is a minute or more between breaths. But still she hangs onto life.

Before I know it, I have been with the family for 3 hours.

The nurses administer morphine to keep her comfortable. They begin with a rate of 2 cc, then increase it to 3, then 6, then 10. It is a form of euthanasia. The morphine will keep her comfortable, but it will also hasten death.

Yet it does not.

There is no small talk around the room. Often times, there is. It is a way of finding comfort in the face of death. This family, however, simply waits in silence. I watch them from a corner. There are times when I can tell one is in prayer. Jim sits constantly at his wife's side, holding her hand. Jay strokes her hair. Mary Jean rubs her hand. Kenny paces slightly. George and Harriet are in laws, and they are often outside in another waiting area. From time to time, one of the children speaks to Mary, talking about love, or telling her, "It's OK."

And it is.

In this circle of a family, they don't need a minister. They are ministering to each other.

But I stay anyway, feeling welcomed to this most sacred place.

From time to time I find myself in the hallway with one, or in a lobby with another. There are times of one on one pastoral care. Each seems to have some important comment to share, a story to tell about Momma, or a question about what happens next.

By 8:00, Mary is still alive.

It cannot be much longer, but we've been saying that for a long time. The family suggests that I go ahead and tend to my own family, and they thank me for having been there throughout the day. So I leave. I would like to stay, but they are right. It is not necessary. God is there, and they are there for one another. They have all they need for the facing of this hour.


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