Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"I need to be still"

Today, at a little after 5 PM, Mn died. 

I met Mn back in 1988 when I started working at the developmental center. She was a teeny little woman who didn't use speech. When she was feeling better (she died of cancer), she used to come and sit on my music book while I was playing music in her group. It always made me chuckle.

Mn was surrounded by Mg, Ib, Dn, the nurse who turned off her vent, and me. 

The nurse and chaplain at the hospital told us to let them know when we were ready, and they would ask us to step outside while they removed the machines which were keeping her alive, and then we would be allowed to come back in and be with her as she died.

Before we called the nurse to disconnect her ventilator and prepare her, Mg, Ib, and Dn gathered around her, each holding her hand, rubbing her leg, and touching her long hair, crying. I sang:

I need to be stiIl and let God love me
I need to be still and let God love me
When this old world starts to push and shove me
I need to be still and let God love me

I need to relax and let God take over
I need to relax and let God take over
He'll take this load off my shoulders
I need to relax and let God take over

(Written by: Archie P. Jordan and Naomi Martin)


We were all set to go back in the room when the nurse told us it was okay (we'd gotten rid of our dirty gowns and put on new ones in anticipation).  There was a lot of crying. Even the nurse was sniffing as she watched. 

I mostly stood at the foot of the bed, and I alternated between watching Mn take her last breaths and watching the machine register "0".  

It wasn't that I didn't want to touch Mn. It just seemed important that the people who had taken care of her should have the physical space they needed to say "goodbye". I knew I'd have room when it was time.

When everyone was finished and had begun to wash their hands, I moved closer to her. I took her left hand in mine, and I put my right hand gently on her forehead for a moment, and I wished her well on her journey.

We filed out, thanked the nurses, and left the Intensive Care Unit. 

I was struck by how little I cried, how honored I was to be present for her death, how humbling and quiet it all felt. 

As I drove home, I found myself feeling teary, but it was a gentle tearfulness. To Mn I offer James Dillet Freeman's beautiful "Prayer for Protection":

The light of God surrounds you
The love of God enfolds you
The power of God protects you
The presence of God watches over you
Wherever you are God is.


John Lawrence MMT, MTA said...

I haven't yet had the opportunity to be present at a client's actual death but I have had the pleasure and honor of being with a number of clients prior to their death. Your remarks and sensitivity in this blog posting certainly speak to both. Continue the great work.

Roia said...

Thanks, John, for your comments. It was pure luck that I managed to be there. As it happened I had not been able to make it to see another client who died a few weeks prior. Sadly, after 21 years of working at the same place, I've had quite a few clients die (staff too), but this was the first time I was able to be present.

It occurred to me as I was driving home that I have now been present at a birth (one of my dear friends from college allowed me the honor of being with her during the birth of her first daughter) and a death. There's something...complete...about that.