I walked into the hospital room to find my friend in the bed too tired and weak to respond with words. All of her life energy was focused on providing each breath and heartbeat for her body. Her mother was weary from sitting next to her daughter’s hospital bed for too long and from grieving the last ten years knowing her only daughter would someday die from AIDS. That time is now very near.
The friend’s Mom said, “Hi Malcolm, please sit here beside the bed. I’ll move into the lounge chair.” Within a couple of minutes, she was asleep.
I spoke softly to my friend, “Are you tired?” I think she nodded yes. It wasn’t time for conversations like we had in the past as one clergy colleague to another. It wasn’t time to talk about the similarities and differences of our faith backgrounds that were always so rich and instructive for me.
Instead, it was time to be present. Time to just be. I sat down and leaned over the bedrail to hold her right hand that rested on her chest. She put her left hand on top of mine. I closed my eyes and silently thanked God for a person who has made such a difference in so many persons’ lives. I thanked God for the difference she has made in my life in particular.
Dr. Saag first introduced us in the clinic in 1995. She asked me to read the sermon she was going to give soon to her congregation. It included telling her congregation that she was HIV positive and that she would humbly appreciate their prayers and support. She would teach them that it is ok to be cared for by others.
She was understandably frightened and yet also resolute in this sermon that this was the right thing to do. “It’s my duty to educate them about this disease,” knowing that it could also mean the end of her employment. She gained strength from the experience and became a powerful spokesperson in so many ways.
Thankfully, in the days following most of the congregation gave her the support she (and they) needed.
As I sat beside her bedside, her portable CD player was close to her ear as songs from her faith played softly. It was such a sacred time.
I stayed for 30 minutes or so, listening to the music, reminiscing, and stroking my friend’s hand.
There were no words to make it all better. Her life lived has already spoken volumes.
It was time to just be . . . present.