Two weeks ago, I met a man named David. Davids are big in my life: my brother was a David. He died at age 30 and that changed my life. My husband is David. So is my son who was born on my brother David’s birthday. There’s something about those Davids…at least most of them. The ones I have met have often been beloved, as is their name’s meaning. Because of this, I’m intrigued, every single time I meet a David.
When I met this David, although he was in bed and weak, I found him to be engaging and talkative, a professor of English who helped 30 students get their PhD. His father was a congregational minister who always said that serving others was what was most important in life. David’s wife was at his side, as was his son, David. His daughter arrived the following week to be with her dad.
It was apparent that David was dying. He had many questions about the dying process. One, surprised me. “Does having my memorial service a week after my death hurt my chances of getting into heaven?” I expected him to laugh but he didn’t. He was serious. After a long pause, I gently stated that it made no difference when or how or if a person had a funeral/memorial service. What really mattered was the way they lived their life. He began to cry and nodded. “That’s what my father always said.” He knew the truth of these words but needed the reassurance that they applied to him as well. Together, we created a mantra for the panic attacks he had when he was short of breath. “Live a life of service—I have done that.” Repeating these words over and over can help to remind one’s spirit that there is a purpose to all this, that dying is part of a process, a way of cherishing one’s legacy and then detaching.
David worried that his mind would continue to question and question. I tried to reassure him that, eventually, he would sleep more and that his mind would too. A few days later, he was sleeping more and when awake, felt more confused. This was unusual for him and distressing. I reminded him that he was used to being very engaged in life; that now he was losing control of that. It would feel strange and a bit unnerving.
During one visit, he asked why he hadn’t died yet. I said that he was a big, strong spirit and that he’d been fully anchored in this life. It would take time to shift. He thanked me for these reassurances. I thanked him for the opportunity to help.
On my last visit, he was more confused, less able to complete a thought or even a sentence. He said, “I’m disturbed….” For a chaplain, this is probably one of the most compelling statements a patient can make. We worry about spiritual distress, always. Yet, when I asked him what he was disturbed about, he couldn’t quite say. After a long period of silence, I said, “I’m hanging on your every word” as I waited for him to finish his train of thought. Finally, he smiled and said, “I don’t know what I’m thinking.” I laughed and said, “OK. Then I’ll let it go.” It was a mutual respect that had developed between us.
That was my last visit with David. He died early the next morning. I found myself missing him. Quietly, I congratulated him for making it happen. “You did it” I whispered and smiled. Now I have another David in heaven who I look forward to meeting again once I make my way through this life.