Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Gifts That Come With Dying

A woman from my church called me tonight while I was getting dinner ready.  She is the sister of the woman I drove to Fox Chase Cancer Center on Our Lady's feast day in December.  Her sister is in the final stages of her illness.   The cancer is everywhere and multi-system organ failure has begun, which means it may not be long before she draws her last breath.  She is in hospice care right now and has received the sacraments for the last time.  I knew my friend needed someone to listen, so I did the best I could.  From my years in the medical/respiratory ICU, I watched a lot of people in similar condition pass.  It's not a pretty death.  When the liver fails, jaundice sets in everywhere, including the eyes, and the loss of protein causes third-spacing, which means that fluid escapes into places it doesn't belong, causing a lot of swelling and distortion.  It's particularly hard on the dying person's loved ones, who can only stand by and watch and pray.

My friend is the youngest in the family, but her sister was always very childlike and dependent upon her.  I know she's going to feel lost without her.  When people die slowly, in a way it can be seen as a gift from God, and I urged my friend to look at it that way.  When you are caring for a loved one who will not be with you much longer, the world does not expect you to do much of anything but care for that person, so ironic as it sounds, we're given the precious gift of time.  When else can you sit with someone you love for hours?  Sadly, there are not many other opportunities for us to show such care and devotion except when someone is about to die.

I told my friend that no matter how much her sister suffered from her illness, it would not compare to the pain of watching her die.  She told me that when she is in church, she wants to scream "why?" but then she breaks down and begs God to help her.  I didn't know what to say so I said what came into my head.  I asked her during this season of Lent to think of how much in common she has with Mary, who had to stand by helplessly as her Divine Son was brutally executed.  I asked her to consider,  in spite of the grief, that the Lord loves her so much that He saw fit to allow her to share in some small measure in the pain His mother suffered in watching Him die so terrible a death.

Please keep these women in your prayers.  May God's Will be done!


  1. My father died of congestive heart failure. It was hard but yes there were moments of encountering God in the process. Watching his last year was probably the main reason for me finding my way back to the church.

    May your friend not suffer long. May she find her way to our Lord's sacred heart.

  2. I'm sorry they have to suffer, each in their own way. Sending prayers.

  3. I agree, that being with the dying is a blessing, albeit a really tough one! There is a certain grace there, and I do think the person at the bedside is filling a great and heroic role for the dying person. It is kind of like being close to the edge of the veil. God bless them both, and may God have mercy.

  4. What blessing you are to her, and all who know you.

    Sitting with my father as he died was an experience I would not trade for anything. It wasn't "fun" but it might have been one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done.

  5. I've put them both on my prayer list, you too, that you will be able to continue to give comfort and strength when needed.


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