Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words. — St. Francis of Assisi
The call to serve came about 10 p.m. on a Friday. The chaplain asked if I could come to the hospital to stand vigil as part of the “No One Dies Alone” program.
The program had just begun, and the training was still fresh in my mind. Nervously, I began to ask questions; then, realizing the questions were pointless, I stopped. I was being called to be with someone who was dying, and being present was the purpose.
As I drove to the hospital, I thought of my family, counting my blessings. I prayed to God for strength and wisdom. It was one thing to receive training, quite another to put it into action. Again, I had to focus on the sacred act of being present for another person during the profound last act of life.
Upon arriving, my worries about being appropriate in the eyes of the medical staff disappeared. They quickly ushered me to the bedside of a woman I’ll call Margaret.
The medical staff flew in and out of the room. Equipment, tubes, IV bags, machines and pumps were everywhere, but they graciously made room for me to hold Margaret’s hand and speak into her ear.
That’s when all the training left my brain and I scrambled to remember what to do. Again, I refocused on the sacredness of the moment. The point of my involvement was to be there with Margaret. Once I centered myself and became a human being instead of a human doing, the process flowed. Though Margaret was not conscious, I believe we prayed, sang, cried and laughed together, sharing a sense of helplessness and togetherness.
The medical staff worked hard to keep Margaret present until her family arrived. The vigil lasted about three hours, but it seemed like only minutes until the family arrived.
After the initial shock of seeing Margaret, her family composed themselves and there was a very peaceful moment. I was able to gently lead one family member to the side of the bed and place Margaret’s hand in hers. I told Margaret that her family was with her and I would be leaving. I thanked her for sharing our sacred time together and quietly left.
I’ll never know just what Margaret could hear or feel, but there was solace and comfort for me, the staff and her family in knowing she was not alone —someone was there to be her eyes and voice. I was there to tell her who was in the room, what was being done, what was going to happen, and how sorry we were that medical interventions would not save her. I shared with her that we would help her through the dying process as best we could, would help her family begin the mourning process, and would not leave her alone until her family or the Lord was there to embrace her.
Shared from the Sacred Stories Archive
Questions for Reflection
This story speaks about the “sacred act of being present.” When have you experienced the sacred act of being present? How was that experience for you?
How can the shift from “human doing” to “human being” help when there is nothing else we can do?
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