The woman lay in her hospital bed, each breath a painful burden. Seven or eight members of her large family were in the room, their faces stricken. When I had left them two days ago, they had been upbeat, smiling.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
The son-in-law said, “They are deciding if they should let her go. The doctors have said there is nothing more they can do.”
I asked the woman’s daughter, the person who had arranged for me to come, if she still wanted me there; I offered to leave. But she insisted I sit by her mother, place my Reiki hands on her.
Two days earlier, the Reiki session had brought the woman peace. Her tense face had softened; she had briefly smiled. She had reached out and placed her tiny hand over mine. Because the room felt so heavy, I had started joking with the woman, and when I laughed, she had opened her eyes very wide, had looked into my eyes for many minutes. The daughter was delighted. She said her mother had not kept her eyes open for more than a minute since she had fallen into this near comatose state.
The doctors could not find anything wrong with the woman, who was a doctor herself, a surgeon at the hospital she was now a patient in. She had received her first chemo treatment for lymphoma some time before and, according to her daughter, was handling it well.
Then, suddenly, she had stopped eating; her muscles began to waste; she struggled to breathe, to speak. The doctors had run test after test.
On this day, my second visit, I placed my hands on her body. It was so frail, so hot. Today, she did not reach for my hand; her eyes did not meet mine.
As I began the Reiki session, a tall man in a protective gown said to the family, “Now is the time for telling stories.” They politely responded, but I could tell they weren’t really listening. He left, saying he was there if they needed him. I learned that he was one of the hospital chaplains.
I continued to quietly sit next to the woman’s bed, my hands gently resting on her body—her head, her neck, her chest, her abdomen. My role was to be a quiet, stable presence, both for the woman and for her family.
I wondered about the storytelling.
Remembering my parting words two days earlier, one of the woman’s sisters said, “We should be smiling.” But she wasn’t smiling. Her face was etched in grief.
After awhile, my hands still gently on her, I heard the woman say—not with spoken words, but clearly—“Let me go. I have a lot of work to do.” When I repeated this to her daughter, she loudly asked her mother if she wanted to leave. The mother opened her eyes and spoke, but her words were garbled, unclear.
A second daughter began to weep, quietly at first, but then more and more loudly. “I call you every morning,” she cried. “Every morning. Who will I call now? Who will I call? No one else understands my pain.” Family members tried to comfort her, but her keening grew more and more intense, teetering on the edge of hysteria.
Sensing that this was upsetting her mother, I went over to the young woman and placed my hands on her: one on her upper chest, one on her back. Her cries became quieter, less intense. Within a minute, she was calm.
Now the family members began to form a circle around the bed, each leaning down to kiss the woman’s forehead. The second daughter, the one who had been crying, kissed her mother and then began to lament her mother’s passing.
There was such grief in the room. But I felt somehow removed from it, holding a place of balance and of peace. It was then that the woman’s husband asked me to leave. He said, “What can you do for her now? I am sure you have brought her some peace. Thank you.”
The first daughter, who did not want me to leave but who respected the wishes of her father, walked me out to lounge area and asked me to sit with her for awhile, which I did. I asked her if instead of crying, the family might share beautiful stories of her mother’s life, as the chaplain had suggested, if they might play music for her, sing to her.
Each of us has a limited time on this earth. Some of us will go quickly, of course, in an accident or quietly in our sleep. But imagine lying in a hospital bed in a small, cramped room with nothing of beauty in it but the faces of your family.
Would you want the room filled with the unsettling sounds of grief or with the peaceful sound of beloved stories, the reminders of your joyful time together on this earth? Would you want to be ushered out with tears or with song?
I hope you will be moved to share your thoughts.
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