What Do I Say?...
Franciscan Media has recently published a book to help those taking care of seriously ill and dying people to communicate with and comfort them. What Do I Say? Talking and Praying with Someone Who Is Dying by Margrit Anna Banta offers just that, plus something more. By demystifying the process in a peaceful and comforting way, the book shows you that there is nothing to fear from being with a dying person.
Reading this book brings to mind my experience with my father’s death some years ago. I had been privileged to take him to his radiology treatments in the few months between his diagnosis of lung cancer and his death not long after. By the time they discovered the cancer, in February, it had already metastasized.
As a family, we clung to any ray of possible good news in the reports from the oncologist, twisting and re-interpreting the prognosis so as to catch the slimmest glimmer of hope. But hope had finally died by the time we found ourselves gathered around his hospital bed on a bright June day.
There wasn’t much to say, and he was barely conscious, not making a sound when he attempted to speak. We took turns reading from the Bible to him, particularly Psalm 23, praying, and reminiscing. At one point my brother arrived from his teaching job and moved to my father’s side. Dad was attempting to say something to him, but was not making any sound. It may have been a simple greeting or something deeper; we’ll never know.
My brother leaned down to put his ear close to my father’s lips. I said, “Tommy, he’s not making any sound, you’ll have to read his lips.” Tom looked at him, and my father mouthed the words, “No new taxes” (credit to George H.W. Bush). My father had always been quick with a comeback, able to find humor no matter what the circumstances, a trait passed on to his children.
I wonder what my father was thinking then – was he remembering my brother as his young, tow-headed boy? Did he think of his grown-up daughters as giddy young children or sullen teenagers? Or was he reviewing his life with my mother or his own nine siblings?
Impossible to know, and I learned no great, overarching lesson from this experience, as difficult as it was. All I can say is I am glad I was there, and I will never forget it. The small lesson here, however, reinforced by Banta’s book and in Scripture, is to not be afraid.
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