Be Calm. God awaits you at the door.
Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
Wish 4 in Five Wishes, “How I Want People to Treat Me,” voices our basic human need to be surrounded by a community of love and respect. I am always struck by the beauty and intimacy of one of the statements in Wish 4: “I wish to have others by my side praying for me when possible.”
It reminded me of a very beautiful experience my wife and children had while visiting a friend of ours named Patrick who was dying of cancer in a hospice. Patrick had become a friend of our family several years before he discovered he had terminal cancer. His fight with cancer had been an agonizing journey, and the radiation treatments left his body ravaged. In a short time he was reduced from the vibrant and energetic man he was to a weak and fragile child filled with fears in the face of death. He was a man of deep faith, but as he approached death his recollections of past misdeeds filled him with a sense of dread. What would God say to a man who had done some terrible things in life, he asked himself.
One afternoon, my wife and children went to visit him. As soon as they walked into the room he began to cry. One of our children, then around six years old, threw his arms around him and said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Pat, it’s going to be okay!” He would not be consoled, but wept even more intensely. After they said a few prayers with him, they all left.
Sometime later, a woman friend of Patrick’s called me after he died to share with me what she said to him after my wife and children had left his room. “Patrick, you need to let go of your fear,” she began. “It’s time. Did you notice how that child threw his arms around you? Did you notice how sincere and loving he was when he told you, ‘It’s going to be okay’? That’s how Jesus will greet you when you die. He was speaking to you through that child: ‘Don’t worry, Patrick, it’s going to be okay.’” He quieted, and shortly after she left the room he died peacefully.
How important it is to have permission to pray with the dying, and for the dying to be prayed with!
Tom Neal, PhD is Academic Dean and professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and author of the popular blog Neal Obstat.