I sat beside Brenda’s bedside on Thursday afternoon. I had received a request from one of our nurses to make the visit, so I drove the 25 miles through the winter sunshine to the home. It was cold outside, but in Brenda’s room the ceiling fan was whirring. There was also a pedestal fan blowing on high and the air conditioner was on. Brenda was still complaining of feeling too hot. That happens when your lungs are ceasing to function. My phone was playing church hymns from YouTube and I was reading passages from the Psalms and the Gospels. Brenda was listening but she didn’t try to speak. It was too much effort.
We’d talked a lot in past visits. We talked about God. We talked about family and the mixture of joy and frustration a family can be. We talked about fear and faith. Brenda was a person of faith who always wanted to be a better person than she was.
Brenda’s mother came in and sat beside me for a few minutes. Tears filled her eyes as she looked at her daughter, who was two years younger than me, and watched C.O.P.D. squeeze the life from her.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said.
“I know that it is,” I told her. “No one should have to do this.”
Even as I said the words I hated how inadequate they were. There was nothing that I could say that would change anything or make anything any easier. Mentally, I cursed my inability to do something miraculous. I wanted to make it better, or at least different. I wanted somehow to make life less unfair and easier to bear. I desperately wanted to make life make sense to a mother who would have to bury her child. I couldn’t.
After talking to the family and saying a prayer over Brenda I took my leave. Before I left, I told her mother that I would be back the next day to check on everyone. She thanked me for being there. “God bless you,” she said. “Thank you,” I replied, not knowing what else to say.
A few hours later, I received a text from the nurse telling me that Brenda was gone. I was left to think about all the words and prayers. Did they make a difference? Will they make a difference to someone one day? I spent years in seminary listening to professors pontificate and classmates theologize about the nature of God and man. We were pretenders, thinking that we understood the Mystery in ways that others did not. The truth is, when we get to that place where all our thoughts, hopes and feelings are laid bare to be examined, we find that we know next to nothing.
I thought I was more comfortable with the Mystery than I am. I thought that I understood more about the order of the universe than that, more about how God chooses to work in the world. Today another family has to deal with the death of a loved one two weeks before Christmas.
Tell me – what am I supposed to do with that?