By April McQueen
Care is the best companion at the end of life’s journey. It is a blessing if there are others who help us at this point. The helpers become a community formed out of crisis. Sadness can be in our footsteps, sick or well, trudging onward, every definition of a Christian soldier.
The strength necessary to make it through difficult times, like the ending of a terminal illness of someone we love in common, is a kaleidoscopic dance: fractured and beautiful. There is a battlefield of the touched and involved who struggle through fights that no one likes to admit to. Over time, “the well ones” can, under extreme stress, exchange cordiality and kindness for bickering among each other. This is not progress. This becomes the new communication of every challenge in this shared journey (like it or not).
We struggle to tolerate as we care. Meanwhile, comfort for the loved one, vulnerable and suffering, rests in our hands, depending on us to work it out. We, the caregivers and care support team, are crucial and connected in how we keep going, give love, and compromise for the greater good. Even if we are cracking at the foundation, we continue. We march down this common path encountering Christ in the universal ending: death.
There are few answers to the questions that multiply as we realize how little we know of the meaning of life. Human beings go from everything we once wanted and thought was important to nothing much left to accomplish except for peacemaking: with ourselves, our people, and Our Lord. Death comes closer to us suddenly or slowly, and always sadly.
Before we are lost in our roles of caring, we lose it before one another. This puts us at risk of forgetting about the pain of the one we care about. Our unified purpose and motivation is to give ourselves to that person.
Most of us would agree about a few universal principles related to pain at the end of a life. Pain is to be avoided at all costs. Pain is bad. Pain is hard. Pain is what happens when things go wrong. Without compassion, the pain strikes deep, like a surgeon’s scalpel cutting without anesthesia and with the patient still feeling an excruciating pain.
If one is ill, then they want abundant love poured out without agenda. As care supporters, we should want to show unlimited love that cascades down like slobbery kisses, soothing touches, and tears, a mix of heartbreak and gratitude. Silent tear drops can become the voice from the subject of our service. Their tears may be for things they never did or became, or said, or shared, or tried. They may be signs of appreciation or apology, or a way to demonstrate that we touched them for better or worse. We strive to go through it all without giving up.
All of this is natural in the complicated business of watching someone pass away. You say the wrong thing and fail (miserably) to make it up as long as there is an opportunity. Honesty shows up and shows out as a cancer, stage four, and the tasks are not as important as the heart that guides the hands that perform them. What time is left is collapsed time for understanding and never enough time left for more words. Louder and later, pain is still expression. Even if it can’t be heard, it can be felt.
Little by little their time ends and far too soon they are gone. They are at peace and present in spirit with The Lord. Pain is not much to bear when redemption is everything.