The call suggested the end might be drawing near, but I did not know the patient well enough to judge on first glance. The emptiness of the nursing home room surprised me, since her family had surrounded her in the hospital, and a visit from the PT department seemed both odd and normalizing.

Then I saw the fear in her eyes.

I pulled a chair up next to the bed. Cancer has been her companion for nine years, beginning with the breasts now long gone. In the bed she appears childlike, in fleece pajama pants. She still wears a wig, a cap of grey hair trying to convince someone all is well. One moment she is with me, another not.

Her husband is my church member, but she is Roman Catholic. I wonder if anyone has called the priest? I consider asking her, as we talk about the breeze from the open window, and I close it for her, and hold up a cup as she sips water through a straw. I remember her new great-grandchild, born in the same hospital from which she has been released, and ask, "Have you seen the new baby?'

Her face shines for a moment. "Yes," she says, "and held him!" She remembers her own son, the baby's grandson, also premature, so many years ago, and she asks what year I was born.

But then I see the fear again, and so I ask, "Has your priest been here to see you?"

"No," she says, shaking her head ever so slightly.

"Would you like me to call and let him know that you are here?"

"Would you?"

"I would be glad to."

We pray together. I am not sure how near the end may be. I'm not sure what I pray for–usually I remember, usually I could recall the next day–but I do remember how grateful she looked, and then how tired.

Back at the office, I call the Catholic parish and reach a very friendly secretary. She asks if it is an emergency, because tomorrow is father's day off?

I go home wondering.

The morning brings a call from her husband to tell me she died, and he tells me the priest came. They weren't sure how he knew. They never thought of calling him.

They did not want to call for the anointing, for the Sacrament of the Sick, because they understand them to be Last Rites, the end of the story.

She needed that end, I do believe it, a mark of punctuation on the experience of dying that lasted so many years, a promise of passage from this world to the next, a release form, a form of release more powerful than her fear of what lay beyond the little room.   

9 thoughts on “Release”

  1. Powerful, indeed. You’ve touched a part of me that really misses being a chaplain.

  2. I’m struggling with wanting to post really sharp writing here, but also needing a place to put things like this other than my “big” blog. I spent a lot of time the past two days with widows and then this visit, which wasn’t long but was powerful. There is a world within the church that much of the church doesn’t see.

  3. “wanting to post really sharp writing here”
    Um, how much sharper are you wanting to be? How do you think this piece isn’t sharp?

  4. Good question, Scriv. I think when I wrote the comment I was remembering the last minutes of writing this, feeling like I was almost where I wanted to be, but distracted by something else, so I just “finished.”
    But the point of this blog was to do the writing, not to be perfect by my standards (which would never happen anyway).

  5. Huh. I thought that the point of the 365 blog for you was to do some shorter writing with the idea that it wouldn’t be able to be perfect because it would be short and quick. Maybe I had misunderstood, but I thought what you wanted to do was to take a single moment or a single image each day and to capture it in fairly concrete language, succinctly but also a little like a sketch.
    If you want the writing here to be sharp, in the sense of polished and tight, then frankly I don’t see how you would manage to do that sort of writing each and every day for a year. As I said, I think this post already is sharp, in the sense that it makes one, powerful statement. I could easily imagine this idea being fleshed out in a bunch of ways, but that would be the sort of thing that, I imagine, would go on in a different venue–on your main blog, or in sermons, or published somewhere.
    Obviously, you have your own ideas and goals here, so feel free to take this comment as just assvice.

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