Somebody there

Daily Reading for March 11

Most of all, we don’t want to be alone. We may long for some peace and quiet, assaulted as we are by the needs of other people all day. But we don’t want there to be no one for whom we matter. We want somebody to be there.

People who are dying want that. They are embarked upon a fearsome journey, and it looks, at first glance, like a journey into oblivion. “I’m afraid to go see him—what do I say?” someone says about a friend who is terminally ill, and she stays away. But the dying one doesn’t expect pearls of wisdom from his visitors. Just your presence is enough—your brief presence, usually since people who are dying don’t feel well and need to rest. Tell him you love him, if you’re built that way. Or don’t—talk about baseball instead, if that’s what your friendship has been about. But you don’t need to talk much on his account. He knows who you are.

As death comes nearer, something extraordinary happens. The dying one becomes more resident in the next world than in this one. Less tied to the existence he has known. This can be seen in a certain detachment from the people around him, a quietness with regard to interacting with them. Sometimes the family is hurt by this—doesn’t he care that we’re being separated? But his detachment is a blessing for the dying, a natural anesthetic against the pain of separation. It enables him to focus on the difficult task at hand: leaving this existence for another. It is like the quieting in the womb mothers usually note as childbirth becomes imminent. Both the baby and the dying person are gathering strength for the journey.

In life, in death, it is the same: Whenever we appear to be completely alone, Jesus is there. We began life with God, and we return to God when we die. When we can no longer reach out for the hand of the one we love, he grasps our hands firmly and helps us across.

From Living Lent: Meditations for These Forty Days by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. Copyright © 1998. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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