Thursday, October 11, 2007
yesterday i went to the convalescent center a few blocks from the church where i hold weekly Bible studies...we have a beautiful relationship with this place - we hold weekly Bible studies, our associate minister does Sunday morning worship, and we are "on call" for pastoral needs that the residents or families may have. i am ALWAYS blessed by my time there...i cherish the relationships i have with the residents and staff.
yesterday, as i was chatting with some staff in the "memory" ward (the locked down section of the facility), another staff member came to me and told me there was a family whose mother was dying and needed a pastor. i quickly grabbed my Bible and had one of the activities folks get me some oil from the kitchen and went to be with the family.
the room was dark except for a light right above the bed, illuminating the frail body of a woman and colorful pictures of children, weddings, and great-grandchildren above her head. bernita's eyes were closed - had been closed for a long time - and her permed hair was sticking closely to her head from the wet washcloth that was folded on her brow...her adult daughters sat in the dark at the end of her bed...staring, crying, waiting...
bernita sounded as though she was breathing in water...each breath labored and bubbling. i spoke loudly so that she could hear me through her breath...through the in between space of death and life. i read philippians 3 and 4 to her...then i read, at her daughter's request, psalm 23...
i spoke to the daughters about their mom. it is so important to tell stories of life when faced with death...death is a part of our lives.
i learned that she was a devoted churchwoman - always the one to go visit folks in the hospital...always faithful. their red eyes told other stories too...of how they wanted her to be free from pain, but losing her was hurting...of how frustrated they were with her pastor who visited only twice in six months...of how they wished their brother would hurry and come so that mom could let go.
with her daughters at my side, their tears dripping onto the bed spread, i anointed this woman's head with oil and prayed for her...comitting her again to the Lord, reminding her and God that she is HIS...that nothing can seperate them because of Christ's precious blood.
i read romans 5. i hugged the daughters and spoke a little more to them and left to attend to others...to have staff meetings...to get supplies for the church at costco...to go to prayer meetings and teach Bible studies....
i was not able to go back to the convalescent center until the end of my day - 9:15 p.m. i ran through the rain to one of the "alternative" entrances...a die hard smoker in a wheel chair greeted me as i walked in. i put the "special" code into the door, *7. i walked down the dimly lit hallway to bernita's room and was greeted by an empty bed illuminated by a single light. no pictures, no damp curly hair...just a stripped bed. the nurses informed me that she had died about two hours after i had left.
staring at the empty bed my heart swelled as i realized that i was the last person who prayed for her....the last PERSON who had the blessing of anointing her precious head with oil...the last person to read God's holy Word to her on this earth.
i thank God that i was able to do that...to minister to this one before she went finally from life to Life.
i snuck out the same door i came in...and my smoking friend laughed because of how hard it was raining...she said, "RUN...RUN"....and i did....rain soaking me, drowning out all sound...save for the distant hallelujahs coming from one who left an empty bed.