Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Does anyone know who sent those flowers?

"Here I am at the end, and I’m begging God," the elderly man’s words came from a deep place. "I feel so alone," he added.

This encounter took place in the hours before dawn when I was called to visit a dying person in my role as lay minister.

Driving through snowy darkness, I finally arrived at the hospital. There, nurses spoke in low tones and moved about like surveyors, measuring the long rough terrain before them.

The patient had been diagnosed with cancer and would be released to Hospice that day.

"He thinks he’s going to die tonight," his nurse explained to me. "I ordered sleep medicine for him," she said while leading me to his room.

Perched on the edge of his bed, his arms were firmly planted at his sides, while he tightly gripped the edge of the mattress. With his eyes wide open, he looked as though he was about to jump off a cliff or a bridge, perhaps.

"I’m sure sorry to call you out on a night like this," he apologized.

"That’s o.k.," I said, dismissing time and weather.

"Is it storming hard?"

"Not too bad, really."

"I don’t want to be a bother, but I am feeling so lonely.

"What makes you feel so alone?"

"My wife is usually sitting right over there," he said, glancing at the chair next to his bed. "I miss her, but I sent her home. She needs the rest."

He rattled off his fears. "I have tumors that are growing very fast. They told me I might not make it to Christmas. I don’t want to die all alone. I haven’t been to church since I was confirmed. I was always working and just too lazy to get up and go on Sunday morning. And here I am at the end begging God and I feel so alone."

"You don’t have to be alone," I tried to console. "God is with you."

A deafening silence followed my response, which seem sorely insufficient.

"God has been right at your side all those years," I tried again.

More silence.

"I believe," his eyes grew bright. "I believe. I do. And, I’ve been praying to God. I’ve tried to be good," he continued.

Feeling at a loss, I offered Psalms to relieve his grief. "The Psalms have given me great comfort over the years. They have been like God’s voice speaking directly to me. Would you like me to read from the Psalms?"

"Would you?" he obliged.

I read Psalm 43, which is David’s call to God in time of trouble.

"Thank you. I felt so alone tonight," he said. "You don’t know how much this has helped."

As I was leaving, I noticed three flower arrangements on a table near the door. Each had a note card attached.

"These flowers are beautiful!" I remarked.

"Yes, they are," he replied with a smile of reassurance. "I know who two of them are from, but that one," he said, nodding to the flowers on the far right, "I don’t know who sent that one. Take a look at the card."

I opened the card to find it completely blank inside – no words, no signature.

"Well, maybe this one is from God," I suggested. "Maybe this is God’s way of telling you that you are not alone."

"Maybe so," he said with his eyes fixed on flowers.

2009 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took three first-place awards. To contact Paula, email pauladamon@iw.net, blog with her at http://my-story-your-story.blogspot.com/ and find her on FaceBook.

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