The call came into our Pastoral Care office and a young nurse was on the phone.
“Hi, my name is “Jill,” she said, “we have a critically-ill patient on our floor and the family has decided to withdraw life support at this time. Could you send a Chaplain to be with them, to maybe say a prayer with them?” I assured her “someone” would be up soon.
Our on-call chaplain was detained, and so I decided to go directly to the room. I walked in to find the adult daughter and her husband by her father’s side. I introduced myself and told her I was very sorry to hear about her father. “Tell me about your Dad?” I asked. And she did.
The warmth of their relationship was evident in her story as she stroked his hand and spoke softly and lovingly about him. I asked her if she would like for me to have a brief prayer with her and her husband. They nodded yes. We prayed. We thanked God for who he was and what he had meant to so many. And just a few words more.
I have probably visited over a thousand people in the hospital over the last 30 years of my career. I haven’t counted. But until this particular day, the only person I had actually been in the room with when the patient took his last breath was my own father, and that was over a decade ago at home.
But this day was to be different. To be with a person in the moment that he or she breathes the last breath, when the heart beats its last, is a gift. A holy gift.
I decided to stay after my prayer and just be quiet. We could tell by the changing numbers on the monitors that it would not be long. Jill stood by in the doorway, one foot in the room and one foot out. She answered the family’s questions while reassuring them that he was receiving the comfort medication he needed to make sure he was not in pain. She gave them privacy and presence whenever needed.
And so today, I was there again when one took his last breath and his heart beat for the last time.
Experiences like this are a reminder to me.
There will come a day when I will die too. There will come a day when I will take my last breath, and my heart will not beat again. Some people call it passing, or passing away, gone, and others call it dying.
Whatever name we call it, it is a humbling experience to say the least to consider our own death even for a few moments.
So much worry over things that did not matter. So much inattention to the things that did.
Life is short. Each breath and each heartbeat is a gift.
Love God with each breath. Love your neighbor with each beat of your heart.
This is all that matters.