Finally Letting Go: A Blessing at the End of Life
by Rev. Jurgen Schwing, M.A., BCC
Rev. Jürgen Schwing
John was in his late eighties, dying of cancer. He was referred to me when it seemed to all involved in his care that he was hanging on way too long. His long drawn-out death seemed laborious, and it certainly was stressful to his daughter and son-in-law who were taking care of him in their home.
His symptoms were well controlled and he was pain free due to the excellent care by the hospice nurse. By her estimation, he should have died weeks ago. He was skin and bones, not eating, barely drinking some water.
The patient’s daughter finally had the thought that maybe what he needed was a blessing or some spiritual act to give him peace. He had been raised Catholic, but left the church years ago when he had a fall-out with his priest. However, to his daughter it seemed that deep in his heart he was hoping for a reconnection with God. He still loved the old rituals.
When I entered his room and first saw him, I wasn’t sure he was alive. He lay in his bed, quiet, not moving, barely breathing. He was tall and thin. He had the blankets drawn up all the way to his chin. The room was quiet and peaceful.
I approached him, and when he looked at me I introduced myself:
“Hi John, my name is Jürgen. I’m from hospice.”
“Hello,” he whispered.
“I’m the chaplain. Is it okay for me to visit you for a bit?”
He nods his head.
John is very weak, barely able to talk. However, he’s very alert and focused.
Trusting my guts, I speak to him very directly.
“John, do you know that you are dying?”
He almost seems relieved that someone is stating the obvious.
There is a fearlessness and confidence in his voice.
“John, is there anything that I can do for you, anything you need?”
He gently pulls his hand out from under the cover and raises it toward me: “Pray.”
I decide to use a prayer that must be familiar to him:
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
He closes his eyes and listens intently. A deep devotion emanates from him.
I say the whole Lord’s Prayer, including: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.”
When we finish, he nods. I’d like to explore more with him what he’s thinking and feeling, but it’s clear he’s too weak for this.
“John, you are safe,” I say.
“I’m safe,” he repeats to my surprise.
“You are loved.”
“I’m loved.” His voice is very high pitched, a little teary.
“Your family will be o.k.”
“Family o.k.” We’re developing a rhythmic litany, a back-and-forth of affirmations and blessings.
“John, you have lived well.”
“God loves you.”
“God … loves … me”
“When you are ready, you can let go.”
After allowing for a minute or two of silence, I ask:
“John, would you like me to bless you?”
John nods his head. I hold his hand and start with a prayer:
“Gracious and loving God: I lift up to you your beloved child John. We thank you for your presence with us as we stand at the threshold between this life and the life to come. I give thanks for John’s life. The joys and the sorrows, the good times and the hard ones, the fullness of it.
Please prepare a place for him in your kingdom. Forgive him any of his shortcomings, for none of us is perfect. But we know that your love and forgiveness are always bigger. When his time comes, please make his passing easy, and take him into your tender arms. In the meantime, let him feel your presence deep inside, and let him know that he is safe and loved.”
I put one hand on John’s head and bless him:
“John, I bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Mother of us all.”
John then reached for my hand. He took it in his and lifted it to his mouth. Then he kissed my hand. Tears came to my eyes. He kissed my hand!
I was deeply touched by this intimate gesture. No longer was I the care provider and he the recipient. We both were giving and receiving, ushered into grace.
When I left, I said “Goodbye, John.”
He looked like a happy little boy when he waved his hand “goodbye.”
Very soon after this visit, John died.