Sunday, February 05, 2012

What if nobody is there?

No - not a crisis of faith, but rather one of practicalities.
As a catholic Anglican, I believe absolutely in the importance of using all the sacraments available to us, at the drop of a biretta...I KNOW that they are an outward sign of the grace of God in all sorts of situations, and that they are of infinite value in reassuring those present that this grace is indeed at work.
This means that I'm (usually) very relaxed about baptising all comers, that I want, always, to welcome and feed EVERYONE at the Eucharist, and a whole host of other things too...
but a couple of weeks ago I found myself wondering what I was really doing.

I was at the bedside of a dear soul from my congregation, who was at the very final stage of her journey.
She was deeply unconscious....her hospital bed was curtained off from her neighbours and her family, who do not share her faith, were taking a breather after a long vigil.
Her son had phoned me to say, pretty much, "if there's anything that you think you ought to be doing, now is the time to do it" of course, I went, and of course, I gave her the Last Rites.
It was what she would have wanted and expected...and it gave me, at least, a physical reminder of the process of homecoming which was going on as I waited, anointed and prayed.
But, when all had been done decently and in order, when I had said my own good bye and God speed and left P to her family once more, I did wonder really what all the outwards signs had been about.
I knew, without any physical reminder, what God was doing in and for P, while she was in no state to register and there was nobody else there.
My actions were changing nothing, but simply offering an outward expression of what was going on within... so......
What do you think?
It mattered to me to be there to commend her to God, to speak those words of direction and release that always, for me, come with the music of "Gerontius" close by...but if a sacrament is a sign, then did I really need it that day?
What is there IS nobody else there?


Perpetua said...

Then you still do it all, Kathryn, or at least I always did. We can never be sure what, if anything, of what we do or say in giving the last rites is perceived by the recipient. However, hearing is the last sense to go, and I have had too many experiences of someone, who has seemed to be lingering, just letting go after receiving the last rites and dying very soon after, not to want to do everything decently and in order.

Kathryn Rose said...

If her son had phoned you and you'd gone to see her but NOT given her Last Rites, or even worse refused to see her -- THAT would have been "nobody else there". Even if P's family don't share her faith, they understand what she would have wanted. They recognise, on some level, a sign as having value.

Personally? I think the angels and archangels are always there. They don't just show up at the Sanctus and then bugger off again, it would be absurd and the traffic would be absolutely horrendous.

if a sacrament is a sign, then did I really need it that day?

In short, yes.

Nik said...

something that has really helped me - especially in this kind of scenario - is knowing that the very last 'thing' you lose is your sense of hearing.... We do not know, can't really know this side of heaven, what folk do or don't hear in their last stages. Given that, you were absolutely right to do what you did. There's also, as the poster above has noted, that great cloud of witnesses - yes, angels and archangels, but also all those saints who from their labours rest, as goes the hymn.
And isn't part of our calling to be present... you were there, present, walking with P in those last steps homeward. And isn't that the most amazing privilege we have?

pace_e_bene said...

I think you did absolutely the right thing. For a start, you don't know, and never will, if she was aware at some level of your presence and what you were saying and doing. They do say that hearing is the last of the senses to go, and the dying are able to hear things even when they seem to be oblivious (though how they know his, I'm not sure). But surely it's something about readying that person for the final journey, and the whole of the Communion of saints and angels are certainly present to your words and prayers. I would certainly want someone to do that for me, even if no one else was present. It's a way of commending that person into the arms of God, and perhaps is the purest form of prayer and blessing when no one else is there.

Kathryn said...

Think this must have been one of my least clear bits of writing ever...I was in no way thinking it wasn't "worth" being there (whatever that means!)...nor did I think that I was alone in any spiritual sense....just wondered (still do) whether the company of heaven needed the oil etc...
Often for me the Last Rites are about reassuring the family that all has been done properly...I guess maybe I was just missing their presence!

highlandponderings said...

Perhaps for the family to be there present at the bedside was too much in that it brings the reality of death ever closer- with or without sharing in faith. I wonder if there is a sense of something- for they asked you to be there. And perhaps the touch with the oil was felt and received, in the same way that a couple of others have mentioned about the hearing being one of the last senses to still be sensed.

Michelle said...

This touched me!

We are all the Body of Christ -- what touches one, touches another. What lay underneath her son's request, that even he may not know?

I think, too, of the women who wrapped Christ's body for burial....and for resurrection.

Sacraments are rooted so deeply, we may never know their effect, we cannot see them leaf forth. But the tree grows stronger regardless...

Janet said...

This time, perhaps it was about reassuring P that all had been done properly. Which is a good enough reason.

I was amazed as I watch my Aunt make her way her home earlier this year as I watch her and my Nan (they're sisters) together. My Nan wanting to look after her younger sister, needing to be useful or doing something. My Aunt continuing to take a breath despite the effort it would take.

Around 7pm we asked my Nan if she wanted to go home, she said yes. So we got her ready, she sad her goodbyes to her sister (even told her she loved her). My Nan's not that well and we got home at 8pm, at 8.15 my Aunt died, just as my Nan had sat n front of the fire with a cup of tea. I don't usually put much store in these things. I believe the dying (who have been ill) have a sense of time and order. They know the right way things should be done.

So if they were signs to no one else they were to P. You may never know what the point was in those outward signs that day till you're home too.

Alyce said...

YOU were there and the experience was meant for you as well as for your congregant. Acting on her trust that you would "take care of everything at the end," you did the right and beautiful thing for everyone. An act of love is precious.