Two days ago the patient’s family asked for a visit from a Roman Catholic priest; minutes later the patient died. Hearing of this missed connection, I was briefly torn between “I’m not a catholic priest” and “How might I be of service to the family?” and the latter quickly won. Off to the office for John O’Donohue’s collection of blessings and a little handbook of prayers, then down the hall to the door with a “don’t enter” sign. Into the unknown.
Opening the door and parting the curtain, I saw the deceased, lying still, eyes open. Three adults stood nearby, in tears. Introducing myself as part of the spiritual care team (and not a catholic priest), I offered to say a blessing. Nodding through tears, they accepted my offer and asked me to step into the circle around their mother’s bed. There we stood in silence for a long minute … and then I read the Celtic blessing “on the death of the beloved,” followed by Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” which they told me had been “mom’s favourite.” Taking my cue from the setting, I made the sign of the cross with words familiar from my childhood, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Again we stood in silence, then embraced, mumbling words of relief and gratitude. I bowed and left.
As I walked down the hall, a lightness lifted my step and warmth surrounded me. Once more an unrehearsed moment of intimacy among four strangers, brought on by the death of a fifth.
The opening stanzas of John O’Donohue’s blessings:
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything. …
click here for the remaining lines
source: O’Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space between us. New York: Doubleday. John lived from 1954 to 2008. image: “Death bed” by Edvard Munch (1863-1944).