I called Friday afternoon to arrange a Priest to provide Last Rights to one of my patients. (We will call her name Jane.) While officiating a funeral service the following day for another patient, I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I should stop and visit Jane on my way home, just to make sure the Priest made it.
Thankfully I listened to that nagging feeling. The Priest didn’t make it, and Jane was still hanging on. The board and care owner told me, “I really think she is waiting on someone to tell her it’s ok to go.”
Humans desire permission. We hunger acknowledgement and affirmation. Even on our deathbed, we want to know it’s ok to go. When someone is there we love, respect and honor, someone we trust, and even sometimes a total stranger, who gives us the permission we seek, we let go.
Jane wasn’t able to speak any longer, all she could do was stare off into space. I leaned in toward her until our eyes locked, and gently placing my hand on her forehead I whispered, “It’s ok for you to go.” Knowing she was Catholic, I recited the Lord’s Prayer, blessed her with the sign of the cross on her forehead, and whispered again, “It’s ok for you to go.”
Later that evening I received a call from Jane’s daughter. (We will call her name Kelly.) I had to break the news to Kelly that the Priest did not make it. What happened next changed the course of my ministry forever.
Kelly was no longer Catholic, she explained, but her mother was. Kelly knew how important it was for her mom to receive last rights before she died. She also knew it was only the Priest who could perform such sacrament.
I could sense Kelly’s anxiety building. She began questioning her mom’s eternal resting place. I did the best I could to comfort her. I shared how I had prayed the Lord’s prayer, and blessed her mom, even with the sign of the cross, and this is the question that Kelly asked me that still rings in my ear today, “Is that enough?”
Is that enough?
I don’t know, I immediately snapped back. (In my mind of course. I would never tell a grieving family member that about their loved one.)
Frantically I scrambled for an answer to give Kelly.
Was it enough? I asked myself. After all, I wasn’t a Priest. I was a ‘stand in; a pinch hitter.’ On top of that, who am I to determine it is ok for someone to die?
The argument deepened within.
Who can, or who should be able to, determine one’s fate? And, further more, could what I say really have anything to do with hastening Jane’s death?
Of course it was enough!
I finally snapped out of my mental banter to respond to Kelly’s plea.
We are all God’s Children! We are all God’s vessel!
My response shocked me, but continued pouring out of me.
The Father of Life uses the Priest, the Pastor, the Teacher, the Rabbi, the Monk; all alike. No one is greater than the other. We are all vessels.
The words came out of me with amazing clarity and authority, but with such tenderness and indescribable love.
The silence that followed was deafening.
Then, through broken tears, I heard Kelly whisper, “I agree.”
She needed permission too.
Jane died later that evening after my visit. Wow! I was the last person she saw before she died. The last words she heard from anyone was, it’s ok for you to go.
There was a time I wouldn’t have been able to tell Jane it was ok for her to go. My religion wouldn’t have allowed me to make such a declaration. After all, what if I was wrong?
I’ve come to learn that we are all wrong at times. No one knows…for sure. We simply do what we know.
My roll as a spiritual counselor is not to judge, but to create an atmosphere of acceptance, to be a instrument of peace, and give permission when permission is needed.
Can you hasten death? I’m not sure. But I do know that giving someone permission to die is magical. It’s ok to go are the most powerful four words you could share with someone who’s dying.
If you, or someone you know, has a loved one journeying through the valley of the shadow death, help them make it to the other side peacefully by giving them permission to let go.
But before you do, check all of what you think you know at the door.
Enter their space heart first. And with no preconceived ideas or expectations. Gently and tenderly give them permission to go. You will set them free!
Oh, and after you have told them it’s ok to go, and they go, tell yourself it was ok to tell them. (You will need to remind yourself often.)
The same permission we give others we must receive ourselves.