Articles

Human Tragedy or Comedy Divine?

December 7, 2021 by

HospiceEmbed
Photo by Gert Stockmans on Unsplash

A November gale was howling as I parked my car, opened my umbrella, and hurried into the facility where I support dying patients on the wards. Aware of the rapidly escalating COVID cases in our area, I made my way gingerly through the maze of corridors, stepping aside to let the crash team race down the hall with a critical patient en route to the ICU. 

A new patient has arrived by ambulance, close to death. Until a few weeks ago she was caring for her husband, who suffers from end-stage dementia. But her rapid deterioration reversed their roles, and he had been attempting to care for her at their home. Overnight, things reached the breaking point, and she’s now under our care.

I am sitting with another patient, supporting him through his terminal agitation, when the doors of the unit open to the husband with dementia on the arm of his daughter. He’s coming to see his dying wife. Finding himself in unfamiliar surroundings, he becomes muddled and afraid. I take his other arm, and the three of us make our way into his wife’s room. She lies unresponsive in bed, but he leans down, smothering her in kisses. “There, there, my darlin’,” he croons. “You’ll be home in a couple a’days now! Everything’s gonna be alright, I tell ya.” It breaks my heart.

Tears run down his cheeks as he takes the seat I pull up to his wife’s bedside. Looking into my eyes, he pours out his sadness and confusion: “I don’t understand why she won’t eat the food I’ve been cooking for her these last days.” He picks up one of his wife’s skeletal arms and holds it in his hands. “There’s no meat left on her, I’m tellin’ ya. . . We must get her eating again.” He begins to sob. “I can’t help thinking this is all my fault that she’s like this. My cooking wasn’t good enough. . .” He is stroking her hair and talking to her as if she’s his child. “You don’t look nothin’ like the day I married ya,” he tells her. “Then you was gorgeous. . . now you’re nothin’ but bones. But I’ve been talking to the Mighty One and he’s assured me you’re going to be okay, and that you’ll be home in a coupla days!”

He pats my arm reassuringly and says, “Yes, I’ve been talking to the Almighty about her a lot these days and he’s told me she’s gonna be okay.” He recounts how he’s been wandering through the house since she was admitted to the hospice, looking for her. “Me cat, she also been looking for Mum. Both of us miss her something dreadful, you know!”

The scene is absolutely heartbreaking, but deeply moving at the same time. Hoping to transport his mind back to happier days, I get him talking about their fifty-eight years of marriage. He tells me he was once a choir boy and sang in his church choir. “Do you have a favorite song?” I ask him. Without hesitation he begins to belt, “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand! I join in, and the two of us sing to his dying wife. Tears run down their daughter’s face, and a nurse who has entered the room wipes her eyes.

He’s becoming somewhat agitated, so I offer to pray. He folds his hands and leans down to kiss his wife as I begin “talking to the Almighty.” Phrase by phrase he repeats every word I say, praying along with me.

The scene is so heartfelt that I struggle to keep from crying. Robbed of the restraint that we “normal” people employ to temper our responses, he is emotionally labile and extremely vulnerable. But like a child in its innocence, his soul shines out unconfined and unbounded. Deep feeling arises from within me as I commend both him and his wife into the loving arms of God. As our jointly offered “Amen” fades from our lips, he dries his tears, stands and announces, “Alright then; now I’m ready to go. I don’t think I’ll stay here any longer; He’s told me she’ll be alright!”

On his daughter’s arm once more, he shuffles down the hall, leaving his beloved safe in the arms of the Almighty.

In reverence, I step into the hospice garden to reflect. I have truly been in the presence of God this morning. The words of Jesus come to mind: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20) I have passed through hell into heaven in the space of twenty-four hours. One day we’ll know.

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Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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