I’ve been with several people in their last hours of life. I’ve watched a young mother say goodbye to her two young children. I’ve watched an elderly lady ease into the sleep that she looked forward to for relief of her chronic pain. I’ve watched a dying man perk up and start talking with invisible people who had been dead for years. I assumed that they were the welcoming committee to ease him into eternity. I stopped by to say hello to someone I did business with, only to find him on the floor gasping for air. After I dialed 9-1-1, I put my jacket under his head, held his hand, and held eye contact with him until his spirit left his body. I held my grandmother in my arms and felt her take her last breath. And I whispered a song into the ear of my best friend as she lay dying.
One thing all these people had in common was that none of them would likely have been able to predict who would be there to hold their hands in their last hours on earth.
The young mother slipped into eternity in the peaceful presence of her father- in-law who sat at her bedside praying for her for hours. Think of that. Many people had streamed in and out of her hospital room, some of them staying by her side for hours. But it was as if she waited for those closest to her to go down to the cafeteria before she breathed her last. Her father-in-law wasn’t there when she was born. He didn’t know her when she was a little girl or even when she was a teenager. She met him for the first time in her twenties. Little did she know when she first met him, that this gentle soul would be there for her in a way that her own father, who had left when she was a little girl, never was.
The elderly lady who hoped for relief from her chronic pain was accompanied by the son whom she had left at age 14 to care for his two younger siblings when she left them all to be with a man who didn’t want children. Despite the fact that she had left her children homeless, hungry, and alone many years before, her oldest son, now a father and grandfather himself, was there with her, making sure she was well cared for by the hospital staﬀ. It was that boy she abandoned who refused to abandon her, who held her hand as she slipped into eternity.
The dying man who perked up as though old friends had walked into the room, was a fragile, old man, scared about what lay beyond this life because he hadn’t been a very nice guy. In his last hours, he accepted the forgiveness of Jesus, and slipped out of this life holding the hand of the child he had abused throughout her entire childhood.
My colleague died holding the hand of a client he barely knew. My grandmother died in the arms of the child she had beaten and burned. And my friend was sung to by an outcast she had befriended when few others would.
All of this makes me wonder who will hold my hand in my last hours. Who will hold your hand? Will it be someone you least expect? Someone you barely know? Or will it be someone into whose life you’ve sown seeds of love? My wish is that I be in the presence of someone who I have helped to love into wholeness.
Someone who is capable of loving because of planted seeds that have taken root.
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