My mother died of lung cancer, a long and painful journey. It took me several years to find my way out of the sadness. One thing that helped me was to read books about the dying process. I was touched that there are so many loving wonderful people working with people who are dying and their stories provide a great deal of support and comfort.
I remember sitting quietly with my Mom when she was looking up at sunbeams coming in through the high ceiling windows. She had the most beautiful, happy, divine smile on her lips. I asked her gently what she was seeing, but she just shook her head slightly and kept looking up, with her eyes moving about the room as though there really was someone there. I had read about people seeing Angels as they were dying, and I suddenly knew without a doubt she was seeing hers. I had never seen her look happier, and it left me with a great sense of peace and wonder.
As time passed, and I felt stronger, I volunteered as a palliative care worker at our local hospital for seven years. During that time, I fell in love with so many people. You may think that’s an odd way of putting it, but when people are dying, there is an opportunity for all of the pretense, roles, and other “stuff” that creates distance between human beings to just fall away. And the only thing left is love, immediate, warm, and beautiful love.
One night when I went in for my shift, I was asked to sit with a patient named Mary who the nurse said had very little time left, her family had been called, and were on their way. Mary lay without movement under the white sheets, and I looked close to see if she was still alive. I could see the smallest movement of breathing so I sat beside her in a chair and gently reached out my hand to cover hers. I had not met her before, and I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone, that I was with her. The angle of my arm through the bed bars was awkward, but I didn’t want to disturb her so in order to sit there longer through the discomfort, I slowed my breathing to match hers. Time passed.
Suddenly her hand moved, slipped out from under mine and gently held my hand from above, a complete reversal of our position. I looked at our hands, and then up at her face in astonishment. Her eyes were wide-open and looking right at me. They were blue and full of a divine star-filled light, and I felt showered with love, a completely judgment free, compassionate love that took my breath away.
I was overwhelmed at seeing and feeling this love, and I had to look away to hide my sudden tears. When I looked back, her eyes were closed, and she had a beautiful gentle smile on her lips. She still held my hand. I sat beside her with tears running down my cheeks.
Some time later, her family arrived and I got up to leave but Mary wouldn’t let go of my hand. I stood there for another moment, feeling the need of the family to take my place beside her, and the love from Mary.
She died that night.