In the darkened room smells of death mingle with the light of life. Misty, the 60-something year old mother of two and grandmother of four, sat there solemnly, feeling totally helpless. “All of life comes down to this,” she thought, as she just sat there waiting for her mother to die. It was surely her mother’s last hours on earth. The daughter’s emotions went beyond simply sadness; an unplumbed and comingled depth of realness and numbness consumed that space. Sublimely, Misty had never felt as real in her own skin as she felt in that moment. Every heartbeat and every second was as a resonant gong in her personal history. Time was never more precious.
Fleeting images crossed her mind of what it would be like without the person that brought her up; the one that carried her every hour through gestation and across the uterine threshold into life. Quickly she would snap herself out of it, to again make the most of the moment. And however many of these thoughts she would have didn’t stop her from having them; it didn’t stop her from lamenting the loss of her mother before her mother had actually departed.
Her mother could no longer eat or drink, so bringing food or beverages was out of the question. She couldn’t focus enough to enjoy a good story or the gifts of reminiscences. Nothing could be given the dying great-grandmother but the cogent and unadulterated presence of a daughter.
Presence was all that mattered. Presence, though it was fleeting, was all that could be given. Still, presence was enough.
The Visible Pales into Insignificance
“We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
~2 Corinthians 4:18 (NRSV)
Nothing that we can touch and physically feel in this life, besides those things connected with our relationships, warrants much attention in grief-filled places.
But our attentions quickly wander to the visible, the material, at other times.
Why do we place all our stock in the fleeting and temporary pleasures of life that cause us to lose our way? Why does it take the death of a loved one to shock us back into appreciating the essences of life?
We can surmise that it is natural to prefer the visible. But the invisible, the things of the spirit, are not only supremely important, they are also incomprehensible. The best we can do in life is to simply enjoy the invisible, eternal things whilst we have them. Afterwards we, too, will be gone.
Our relationships with our parents and grandparents and children are a gift from God. Our wisdom is realised when we prefer these precious relationships over time, money, career, and every other possession.
On the balance of things, little else matters. Too many find out too late.
Vigils with the dying sort all our priorities. Very little that we typically value is of any value at all. Instead, there is the silent and untold value of our presence—of simply being there; not saying a thing, just being there. In times when nothing else can be done just being there helps.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.