First Person

The Final Prayer: A Chaplain’s reflection on death and dying

Heather Burwell, MDiv

The room was filled to capacity with adults in sorrowful tears, some locking arms, some holding hands. This was Elizabeth’s (not her real name) community of family, those who love her most and loved her best. They hated to say good-bye to one who had been such an important and loving part of their lives, but sadly knew that her life on earth would soon be over. For reasons known only to God, it was Elizabeth’s time.

The very air surrounding her bed seemed to waft a peaceful and calm feeling. The ventilator was performing it’s life-maintaining job of keeping Elizabeth’s lungs functioning in a labored manor. Her organs were in the process of shutting down. It was obviously a matter of very few minutes when I was paged to the ICU to see her family.

She had an angelic, sweet face, easily discernable even with the excessive tubing going into her mouth and nose. She looked at complete peace, her eyes slightly shuttered.

I held her right hand, stroking it softly, speaking to her in a low tone, “Elizabeth, your family is here. I am here. You are not alone. Most important, God is here with you right now.”

One of the men asked if I would offer a prayer and pray aloud with them. I was truly humbled to be accepted so lovingly by this family during such a heartbreaking time. Knowing that this could be the last prayer delivered by anyone before she passed into eternity, I replied, “I would be honored to pray with you for her peace.”

They all stood, some quietly shuffling out their chairs in an attempt to gather more closely. Hands were held as we formed a large circle of love around Elizabeth’s bed. I was right beside her head, focusing solely on her contented face. I knew this might be a most difficult prayer, but God led me, and the words came.

“God, we come before You now, honoring You and in honor of the life of dear, precious Elizabeth. We thank You for her. She gave abundant love to her family for so many years. They are all gathered here in unity of love for her. We ask You take her now where there will be no more suffering or pain, no more heartache, but only love and rejoicing in Your glorious Heaven. We ask that You usher healing into the hearts of her loved ones, giving them comfort and peace, knowing that Elizabeth will suffer no more. We thank you for the life of Elizabeth. We submit our prayers in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen”

At that point, we were all in tears. Elizabeth continued to rest peacefully, breathing her last breaths. The doctor then entered to remove the tubes. Everyone kissed her cheek or hand, stroked her hair, and bid her a final goodbye. Even in death, love wins…love of family without question, but faithfully the love of God who offers us peace and comfort in times of distress, unhappiness and even death.

Heather is a new contributor to Hospice Chaplaincy. Some of her work will be featured here regularly. This was an excerpt from Heather’s book, “Undeniable Presence.”

Hospice Chaplaincy is committed to promoting excellence in spiritual care at the end of life. Our mission is to advance research initiatives that promote a better understanding of the psychosocial and psycho-spiritual aspects of end of life care. We are dedicated to providing patient advocacy, support and education services to individuals, clergy and medical professionals resulting in improvements in providing quality spiritual care at the end of life.

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