Yesterday, we had a new patient who I could not get to see easily as I was already scheduled to see patients in a whole different part of our large geographic territory. She was the matriarch of a very large Cape Verdian family and was 99 years old. The family had requested Sacrament of the Sick (SOS) for the patient as they were devout Catholics – and so was the patient. I called her daughter who was the Health Care Proxy and offered to set up (SOS) and visit today, the next day, and in the morning to provide presence and comfort. The daughter was grateful for my assistance and had agreed to the plan.
I arrived today after my morning meeting at ten to find several crying family members leaving the floor. I went to the the RN and stated, “She died, didn’t she.” She affirmed my conclusion. “Did the priest come?” “No.” I was so disappointed and surprised as this particular priest is very reliable. I went to the patient’s room to find many more family members still present – probably 15 to 20. I found my way to her daughter and introduced myself. She graciously brought me to the deceased patient in the hospital bed. She began telling stories about what a great mom her mother was – a matriarch of the family who never had conflicts with anyone. “In all her life, I only remember an issue she had with one person. She was a saint.”
Meanwhile, family members continued to cry and honor their lost matriarch. The family presence was intergenerational. I was impressed by the presence of many young people, along with the elders. I affirmed the family for their great presence with the patient and let them know that what they just accomplished was hard work….but that they had done a good job sending her on her way. They had been present for her. I said to the daughter, “what can I do to be spiritually supportive?” “Pray,” she said. “Just pray.” So, I placed my hand on her mother’s forehead, bowed my head, and gave thanks for her life and love. I prayed for her comfort and peace. I asked God to hold her in his Everlasting Arms and bring her home. I asked for comfort to the loving and grieving family.
The daughter expressed gratitude and continued to tell stories of her mother. Family had gathered more when I was praying. Funeral plans began to be discussed. It was clear this was a very spiritual family. I was feeling badly that no priest had come to bless this beautiful soul. So I offered a blessing. “I have water blessed by a priest in Ireland with me. I can give your mom a blessing, if that would be helpful.” The family was pleased about this idea. “Yes,” was the answer. More gathered around the bedside and I invited the family to participate. I asked them to place their hands somewhere on the their loved one’s body. I instructed them that together, we would recite the Lord’s Prayer. After that, I would make several blessing statements. After each statement, I invited them to affirm with “Amen.” I then stated I would close with a blessing with the holy water placed on the loved one’s forehead and give the her a benediction to send her home. Then we all did just that.
The family continued to cry but they were at peace. I let them know about our bereavement services and asked if there was anything else I could do for them. They stated all was well and expressed appreciation for this pastoral support. I left. Shortly after I left, the family felt free to disband, more at peace with having honored the death of their loved one. This is what my pastoral care looks like. It is part triage, part loving presence with a big dose of humility and love. To include divinity and presence in the process of saying goodbye at end of life is the highest honor and privilege. I am so blessed to have this as my life’s work. There is nothing better than being there for others when it matters the most and to be able to elevate God’s presence and make it visible. Blessed be.
Copyright© Cynthia Cady Stanton, April, 2019