Rev. David A. Tester shares from his experiences during his chaplain residency in Charleston, SC at St. Frances Hospital. The article was first published in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling.
The Final Moments of Life
I am a hospital chaplain. It is an awesome event when life support systems are removed from a patient. I am always honored when a family requests my presence on this special occasion. This time it was a mother whose children were present.
This event is about the process of dying with focus on the last moments.
The nurse entered to remove the tubes and equipment. She received permission and does so. Immediately, the patient’s vitals dropped. Breathing became labored and we knew death was waiting. She had not been conscious for more than a day.
The son rubbed his mother’s forehead and talked of God’s love for her. His faith seemed strong and he was able to stay emotionally together to assist his mom in her death. It was a very poignant scene…this son, his mama and death.
The next 25 minutes saw her vitals slipping to the point that I knew the mother would no longer be aware of her surroundings. And this is where a most wonderful thing happened:
I’ve seen many deaths. But this closing was different. The very last thing the mother did on earth was to smile at her son.
I was in awe of the death scene. I would like to focus on the final moments of her life…her non-verbal communication with her son.
I think I tapped into something here—the final moment—the transition from:
The earthly to the eternal,
From here to glory,
The cross over to the other side
The exact moment—that which usually cannot be measured or known.
When we know of our own death, what motivates us in the last hours? I’ve been fascinated by Jesus and His last day on earth. He spent his time taking care of others, comforting them and assuring them that where He was going they would one day go also.
And here’s this Mom… at the very last moment as she was stepping into eternity, Mom locked her eyes on her son and smiled twice.
And not only that, it was the VERY last moment…she was ashen gray, no blood was flowing. The modern marvels of technology beeped loudly and were silent.
The timing of the smiles was a miracle in itself.
What must these moments have been like for Mom? She showed no fear. Of all the things she might have done, she communicated love to her family. This one, whose verbal ability was gone, weakened by the throes of death, gasping for air, suddenly quieted, looked at her son and smiled.
Did she know this would be her last act? If we knew, what would ours be? If I’m dying, what will I do? It will be my last act, what should I do?
What must this be like? Is it like falling asleep or being medicated before surgery as you see all fade away before you? What will that moment be for me?