There is an intrinsic calm that blankets those who have the privilege of being in attendance of a final rite of passage. A feeling altogether joyous and converging on despair where the relief of the waiting is over and the grief has not yet set in.
It is this moment that makes me a believer. This moment that teaches me the true meaning of faith. This moment makes me feel surrounded, despite being alone with an earthly vessel devoid of the life-force that it could no longer contain. A palpable buzzing, silent, yet frenetic, gently nudges me, reminding me that I am, in fact, alive and have been deemed worthy to be present.
I allow myself the audacity of intruding on this perfect moment by taking hold of a hand gently jerking with the last sparks of life before spiritual liftoff loosens grip entirely. The kinetic shift is poignant, as touch affirms a soul ascending away from this journey and on to the next.
There is a brevity, of course, that cannot be ignored. An imperceptible nod to gravity occurs as my eyelids drop shut (a machine still whirring) in honor. And, somehow, with the loss of one sense, the others awaken with a deep inhalation of breath, more meaningful and pure now that a once beating heart lies in wait beside me. A more pronounced saltiness catches in my saliva as tears threaten to leak from my lids. The serenity gives way to solemnity and, inevitably, to the war cry choking away breath, stifled in remembrance and love, and bargaining, and metamorphosis.
And to hear the final breath. The final motion of the most elaborate machine shutting down, no longer labored by gurgling, but a gentle rattle, the reminder of childhood coming full circle as a rasping chortle learns to escape in melodious abandon.
In that moment, a nurse’s stethoscope tells me medically what my senses already know, and what my heart is allowing to be believed.
Faith is respecting the person beside me, now devoid of his senses, who has already taken comfort in the anticipation of his survivor’s strength to go on living which has lessened the fear of the certainty that is his own death. Faith is that next inhalation of breath by the bereaved, an opening of eyes and sadness only audible through the art of crying, not to be cheapened by words. Faith is choosing to still find beauty in the impossible task of letting go. Faith is a final gift at end of life and our reciprocity is knowing that faith was never actually ours to give nor will it be our choice to lose.
Joanna Vanore, MSW, LSW
Hospice Social Worker