He is unresponsive. Imminently dying, they say. He has already been visited by other chaplains over the course of his stay, the priest has been called for Anointing of the Sick. His grown children gather around his bed and we hold hands… I lead a prayer for peaceful transitions, for healing, for comfort. The family weeps openly. I offer to sing Amazing Grace, they nod their heads, blow their noses. I sing. Dad opens his eyes and locks his gaze with mine. When I finish singing a second verse, he smiles. “That was nice! Thank you!” He exclaims. His family is surprised. He hasn’t been speaking for a while now. I pull out a Jesus card, cut it, fold it. I hand it to Dad, who smiles broadly and exclaims “Beautiful!” It is art. It is music. It is presence. It is prayer. It is a (last) moment this family will treasure forever.
Cards in Action: Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. It was a Hindu prayer for peace that I read to this family, as they said their goodbyes to little Siddhartha. He was born still at 33 weeks. He was their first child. Dad’s parents were there, Mom’s sister was there, tearfully supporting. My interfaith book has prayers for fetal demise, but they are decidedly Christian, and not appropriate today. It is always difficult to lose a child. An infant, especially. It is a different kind of loss, one never expects to bury the dreams the future holds, leaving behind the only-just forming imaginings of what this family would grow to be. I brought her a bright blue and green patterned quilt from our office cupboard, wrapped Baby in it. Had Mom hold him in it. I took an angel from my bag and asked them to spell their son’s name. In the white space on the paper angel, I wrote it out. Then I held the angel between my palms. I stood, infusing this angel with silent prayer, before folding it into existence. Once folded, I handed it to Dad. I asked about temple, and if they could request a “puja” for healing. Just using their word for ritual meant something. I hugged Mom. I told her it is hard to start off motherhood as a mother to an angel, and also that she would become stronger for this experience. I told her to take her time to mourn this child. That her body would heal faster than her heart.
Cards in Action: With one foot in our world and one foot in the next, she lay in bed, weeping and crying out for her mama. She no longer recognized her husband of 50 years, and had ceased speaking. Her eyes tracked movement in the upper corners of the hospital room. I provided anointing at her husband’s request, and folded a Virgen de Guadalupe prayer card. Handing it to her, I said “para fuerza y animo”. For strength and courage. She wept more as she kissed the card and drew it to her chest. I knelt by her bed, took her hand and sang Ave Maria, as her husband sobbed.
A few more words, a quiet exit…. Two days later a staff chaplain relays their request that I return: “We don’t know if you can find her, she might be an angel… but please send her, if you see her!” They had said. I return to a smiling woman, sitting in a chair, who recognizes me, greets me. Her husband is there, telling me how she began speaking after I left- telling him God had given her a second chance. For now, she has returned consciousness to the Earthly plane- for a little while longer.
Cards in Action: I took my youngest to our local burger joint for lunch today. The mood was somber. A couple old ladies joked with the owner, asking him if he “had signed the register yet”. The family is Muslim, with no outward identifiers as such. This I had learned. We have been eating there for 20 years. Today I learned they are originally from Palestine. (I asked). I asked to borrow a pair of scissors and cut and folded my Healing Hands card. The owner thanked me quietly, and showed me where he had placed it in his tiny kitchen. A small gesture, on a day like this, for sure. And one that touched a heart in solidarity.