DEDICATED to my Dad, John, a true hero in every sense of the word. You are an inspirational soul and a wonderful human being. I am so blessed to have you for a Father!
You are not alone...
My family and I invite medically fragile veterans to live in our home where we care for them and invite them to become part of our family. They have no family who are able or willing to care for them. It isn’t easy, it isn’t what I planned to do with my life, and sometimes it isn’t very pretty or comfortable. It is, however, quite miraculous considering my story, and we have been richly blessed through this process. I am writing this book to share our story because we truly encounter angels.
It’s A Saturday at 3:30 am and I feel his small, bony fingers wrapped around the palm of my hand. His eyes are closed, and I watch his chest carefully for signs of faint movement. He is close; I can sense it. Several seconds go by before I hear the distinctive gurgle known as the death rattle, and I know it’s only a matter of moments before there is complete silence. I pray for his soul about to depart our world. I pray aloud because I know he can still hear me, and I want him to know I am still here. I let him know he will be missed, that he has become a part of our family, and that we are blessed to have known him. He gasps. I wait and then nothing. Then tears flow. Again.
I am no stranger to death. In the past 6 years I have held the hands of more dying people than I care to count. Most have died here, in our home, holding our hands. We have witnessed loneliness, anger, regret, joy, fear, and severe psychosis. Most of our patients have passed on with no family or friends physically present. While our patients have been individuals with varied tastes, attitudes, religions, experiences, backgrounds, etc., there is something amazingly similar about their dying processes.
Barring a sudden and unexpected death, there seem to be several commonsense steps involved in the transition from this world into the next. From my observations, the process includes a reduction in food and beverage consumption, increased fatigue and sleepiness, decreased output, increased agitation and fidgeting, increased life reflection and some regret, increased confusion and sundowning, and changes in medication effectiveness. However, the most fascinating observation is that the dying patient is never spiritually alone during this process. It starts with a conversation. Sometimes its just a garbled, mumbled, one-sided conversation I can hear down the hall. While I know there are no visitors and no other staff in the room, the patient is talking to someone. Maybe the tv is on? I check. No tv. I ask who they are talking to. He responds, he is talking to his wife. She passed 10 years ago. At first, I attribute this to delusions, but after many observations I see that it is something each of our patients has done at some point in their dying process.
Next the patients move into what I call a semi-conscious phase in which they are only slightly responsive, but they are clearly conversing with someone. When asked who they are speaking with they act as if someone is there, even opening their eyes to glance across the room toward a chair or pointing towards the chair. It is the consistent way these visions have been communicated to me that have convinced me that there is a spiritual presence in the room.
In addition to the patients’ communications about a spiritual presence, I also experience a presence. I am very sensitive spiritually and when I feel a good presence, I get goosebumps, but I am comfortable with it. I know it is there, but I am not afraid. When I sense a bad presence, I get goosebumps and chills and I am afraid; I pray diligently until I feel the presence subside.
During the patient’s transitional phase from this world into the next, I am hypersensitive to spiritual presence. There have been two instances where I felt a great deal of tension and anxiety about the process, and both of those situations involved troubled and angry patients. The other transitions were peaceful. The involvement of these spiritual presences has confirmed for me that there is another realm beyond the one of our limited human understanding, and we are not alone, not even in death.
I kiss his forehead and place his hands on his chest. It’s time to summon the hospice nurse.