A Via Dolorosa Not to Be Missed
No, I cannot yet bear to write it. It is too sad. Yet the images churn inside me, begging release, and there are so many of them. We have watched efficient nurses administer pain medicine to my brother and then, with eyes brimming, give him sound kisses on his forehead. "I don't know what we're going to do when he leaves us," one nurse choked to me, "we all love him so, and it's not going to seem right without him here."
Another nurse, her shift ended, was discovered sitting by his bed in the wee small hours. "I just wanted to keep him company and pray for all of you," she offered.
Our brother has lately gone quiet. He moans and coughs. When he does speak it is a word or two, soft and hoarse and largely unintelligible. Our visits are less conversational. The time of sharing memories and managing a smile or two is past. Now, it is all about stepping outside so that our brother can be turned and resettled, stepping back inside to help him eat, stepping back outside while he is turned again.
Many would contend that what life our brother has left is only pathetic, a life of suffering and sorrow, that counts for nothing. Many would say it. What I say in response is this: My brother's life today is exactly like his life ten years ago. It is huge, it is love-filled, and it is fraught with humanity. It is the life he has.
The Way of Sorrows is the Way of the Cross. It is a process of being open to, and acknowledging, and fully living through those times in our lives when we know humiliation, or hardship, or failing, or shared suffering. One of the stops on the Way of the Cross is entitled "Jesus Meets His Mother," and we have seen that powerful image played out over and over in these past weeks.
A few days ago, I watched as Mom fed her dying son his supper, patiently holding small spoonful after small spoonful to his lips, encouraging him to swallow and take a little more, offering him a drink, dabbing at his lips. Occasionally, watching him do the hard work of simply eating, she would shake her head sadly and offer him another bite.
I watched this unshrinking woman -- a woman who, ten years ago, would have told you that she could not possibly endure such a reality -- feed her son a pureed meal from his dish, while she nourished him -- and the rest of us present -- in a completely different way, with her unconditional love. Forty years ago, she had fed her son as she feeds him now; back then it was a game, now it is a heavy sadness. But both meals had been flavored by the constancy of her love.
This is no image in pastels. Nothing this heroic can be portrayed in pinks and yellows and blues. Only the starkest of colors, boldly cast, can be used to relate what we are seeing. Recently, we stepped outside -- once again -- to allow the nurse to turn her patient in his bed. We know she used the utmost care and delicacy in handling our brother, and yet we could see, upon re-entering his room, how exhausting it had been for him. I stood at the foot of the bed and saw his face as Mom drew near. Too exhausted for words, he reached for her and she took his hand. His eyes saw only his mother, and they said, "Mommy . . . oh, my Mommy," and her eyes said the rest: "Son . . . oh, my son."
But this is too sad, it is. Life is so very sad and so very beautiful. Some will scoff: "Beauty? What beauty? What kind of sick mind can find beauty in this pietà? It would be more beautiful to help your brother to end his suffering. Real love has nothing in common with pain. What is to be gained from all of this beside some medieval Catholic satisfaction in suffering?"