Nothing Behind – a Personal Encounter with Death

(death and dying, 10)

I got there late, but I was determined to see her if I could. I hadn’t been there in four or five days and I felt guilty. She didn’t have much family and so the days were long, the nights even longer. She had fallen and broken her hip about ten days ago and the doctors didn’t have much hope for her recovery. She was really old – she had outlived her husband by several years and nearly all of her friends. She was toothless and the shrunken gums, pinched cheeks and pointed chin made her look even older. Only the eyes remained bright and young. All of the vigor and fire which had once emanated from her entire body danced in concentrated form in her eyes – but not tonight.

It was dark in the room when I entered; I feared she was asleep. I could barely make out the form on the bed. I stood, just inside the door, not wanting to wake her, and thought I’d just pray for a moment and leave. “Who is it?” The voice was soft but she never moved. “It’s me.” I said and stepped over, close to the bed. She reached out and grasped my hand. Her grip was amazingly strong at first.

“How are you feeling tonight?” “Not too good.” “Are you in any pain?” “No, not really, I’m just tired, but I can’t sleep.” “Is there anything I can do?” “No, I think not, I don’t think I have much time left. I’ve made my peace and there’s not a lot to look forward to, and almost nothing behind. I wanted to stay as here as long as I was of some use, but I’m not anymore.”

“I’m sure it’s a better place than this,” she said. “It’s bound to be,” I replied.

I wanted to make some inane comments about how she might be useful yet, how she might recover – go home – start again – I just couldn’t do it – it wasn’t true – she was finished here. We held hands and talked for almost an hour there in the dark. She talked of her youth, her children, the moves they had made, good times – bad times – I had heard the story a hundred times – a thousand times – it is my own story – everybody’s story with a change of names, dates, places. It’s a good story – a true one – one I never tire of hearing and the end of the story was near. Or perhaps the beginning.

“I’ve had a good life,” she said, but the best part was when I became a Christian. I’ve always thought that was the best day of my life.”

We prayed – holding hands in the dark. I never did see her but we touched and our hearts were one. As I left her I heard her say, “I love you,” and I said, “I love you too.” And I did, you know.

After all the hassle, how marvelously simple it all becomes at the last.