I bet this story isn’t going where you think it might. Seeing the word God inside a big heart on a blog about grief and death makes an obvious kind of sense, doesn’t it? Dying patients do tend to grow in their faith as life draws to a close. And to some extent, that is what this story is about. But there’s more to it than that, and I hope you’ll be as moved as I was by the way this one ends.
The patient was a clear-eyed, clear-skinned, clearly tired man in his early 80s. He seemed ready the minute I walked into his room to engage with me in my word project. God was the word he wanted me to draw, and it actually resonated with love when he spoke it.
He had multiple heart conditions that made him too frail to treat, and his days were numbered. But he had no fear of dying, and in fact, was anxious to go. He said he hoped it wouldn’t bother me to hear that, but this life had pretty much worn him out. I told him I understood.
He said he stopped buying into other people’s concepts of God a long time ago, and had made it his quest in life to really understand and know what he believed about God. I told him I had started on the same quest 30 years ago, and was still on it. That excited him, to be able to speak freely about a subject many people are so rigid about. I told him he could say anything he needed to say, because I really wanted to hear it.
He described his life, showing me the places where his beliefs had formed, unformed, grown, and shrunken back into themselves. He had carried a lifelong sense of inferiority about himself, but had somehow managed to marry a woman he loved, have 5 children and succeed in a career that made him happy. He read voraciously and was clearly intelligent. Looking back, he was bemused by his doubts about himself, but I loved his unselfconscious honesty about a feeling so many of us have.
One of his beliefs was that we are all capable of more things than we imagine ourselves to be. And not just great things. Awful things. He was as horrified by humanity as he was forgiving. And as he continued talking, he proved it.
One of his daughters had been a wayward child. She became a drug-addicted adult. She bore several children. She could not take care of them, and he had helped raise them while she was incapable of doing it, herself. He grew especially close to his grandson, and that never faded, even when his grandson did something so horrific, most people would have completely shut the door on him forever.
I can’t bear to repeat the details, and they were hard to hear. But what this man believes is that none of us deserve to sit in judgement of anyone else. No matter what. We can’t know the true, deep reality of another person’s life, their purpose, their lessons, their redemptions. We can only hold space for love and forgiveness, because that is the ultimate definition of God, in his opinion.
When I handed him his word, he barely reacted to it. His mind was somewhere else. I held my hand out to him and he stared at it, taking it into his hands. He wouldn’t let go. As I stood looking down at him, he said that he wanted to retract what he’d said earlier about being anxious to die. Our conversation had renewed his faith and made him want to live. He asked if I realized how big that was for a man his age, in his condition, to get a new lease on life?
Thinking back on it, I believe this man held the space for his own love and forgiveness, and just needed a witness to share it with him. He has beyond any doubt in my mind, completed his quest to know and understand God. And what a gift it was to experience that.
I guess there really isn’t an end to this story. At least I hope not. I hope it continues with you being willing to speak openly, to listen openly, while someone you love comes to terms with their idea of God. Or their need for forgiveness. Or their life experiences. Holding the space for love and forgiveness seems like as good a way to know God as any. And it's just as important in life as it is in death.
© 2016 Kathy Curtis, All right reserved