She lies in the hospital-style bed, much too small for the twin size mattress. She is much too thin to be in a comfortable repose, there isn't enough flesh left on her body to hide her bones. She is in pain, due to the rapidly progressing degeneration of her body. She is too precious to be dying.
Her son called me earlier and told me to hurry, that his mother had asked for me specifically to come to her bedside and attend her. That is how she put it, her son David said, "Tell Chaplain Jim to come attend me."
God flew His angels in formation ahead of me as I raced from my 'secular' job in the city to the countryside retirement community where I was the Senior Chaplain. This was the first of my congregation who would be passing from this world into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. This is what I talked about for the countless Sundays since I had taken over the chapel at the beginning of the new year. And I was angry!
I wasn't prepared! I wasn't ready to let this precious saint go! This wasn't what I signed up for! All these thoughts, these angry accusations flew through the air sent heavenward by my rising ire. Like a whining and spoiled child, my eyes glanced up to heaven as I muttered, "I don't want to do this!"
The walk to my dear saint's room seemed to take seconds and her son looked up in surprise at first and then with relief. "Chaplain?," he questioned, "You said it'd take about forty-five minutes." I nodded to both questions and nodded to the fragile form lying on the bed beside him. "She's been waiting, Chaplain. Please, she wants to see you." David stepped back, collapsing into the chair a few feet away, exhaustion taking command of his body.
I stepped up to my dearest sister in the Lord and friend, brushing her hair back from her face as I had learned was how she liked it. So much learned, my anger flared, all for nothing it would seem. I couldn't hold back the ravages of time, prevent a body from failing the spirit it carried inside.
Jeannie's eyes opened and her shaking hand reached out for mine. I grasped it with both hands and knelt down beside her. "Chaplain, it's good of you to come," her fragile voice scratched through the thickening air. "Thank you." Her eyes closed as she took another deep breath, struggling to keep life in her body. "I'm ready to go. Will you give me the anointing?"
"Oh Jeannie, what am I going to do without you here in Chapel?," I whispered in her ear as the tears began to flow. "Why would God want to take you from me now?"
"Don't be angry, my dear one," Jeannie's eyes opened again, clarity and fire brimming over the eyelids, "You know this is just what you taught us in Chapel. The body will fail, sinful and broken. But the spirit, that is what you have saved." A tear welled in her eyes as I opened the handbook.
"Through this holy anointing, may the Lord----in His love and mercy, help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit………" I touched the olive oil in the sign of the cross to her forehead, "May the Lord raise you up and save you from your sins, known and unknown….." I touched the oil to her palms, "May the Lord come to fulfill His promise to you, Jeannie. To carrying you home to your Mansion over the hilltop."
"Thank you, Chaplain," my dear saint's voice seemed less strong than moments before. I knew that there was one more request she had and I was suddenly frantic….and increasingly angry. Would I be allowed, at least, to give her the peace of passing with the Last Rites of her denomination? Would that be too much to ask? Come on, my heart seethed, give me a break.
After the Last Rites were preformed, Jeannie seemed to sink a bit into the mattress beneath her. Her breathing slowed and her eyelids fluttered. And suddenly, the anger I had carried into the room dissipated like a mist and my eyes were opened. My anger was justified, but wasted. The struggle I had fought wasn't against death coming but whether death would hold this one down. And that was a fight I knew we had won.
Jeannie's eyes opened briefly one last time as her breathing stopped and she looked at me. A smile, that blessed and joyful smile that filled so many of my Sunday mornings, lit the room one last time. And she was gone.
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