O God, You Are the Wayside Resting Place

Likewise, the spirit also comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26

Inexpressible groanings seem to be the stuff of my life these days.
My groans mingle with tears at the bedside of my brother as he slowly, slowly retreats into himself in these last days.

I watch my brother, now in hospice as we have reached that point, and I realize how small our lives are, and how a prolonged death makes them ever smaller. A few months ago it became clear that S could no longer drive, and so the car became meaningless to him, and the world began to shrink. Then he couldn’t go out, and so his clothes were irrelevant, and the world became four rooms and a bath. Then he could no longer cook and his staggeringly well-equipped kitchen became so-much excess. (When one is only eating soup or soft-boiled eggs, a simple hotplate will do; when you’re mostly drinking Ensure, all you need is a cooler.)

And meds. Bottles and bottles of meds. You need them, and they begin to take over. The world is smaller, but the nightstands are not large enough. The object d’arts are put away and replaced with bottles of multi-colored pills, retractable needles with pre-measured doses, large bottles of pasty yellow stuff that is supposedly liquid…the world becomes your bedroom and your bathroom, your tv and your meds. You pop opium-based painkillers while watching Emeril cook with your Kitchen Aid mixer and wonder how he got into your stuff. Then, when your brother hurts his back lifting you because you are literally too weak to move, your world shrinks again, until it is only your bedroom, and then only your bed. Emeril is silent. The burners are turned low. The whole large world, which you had launched yourself into recklessly, with abandon, the world you had yourself enlarged with your art and your playfulness and your noise has become compressed and concentrated and hushed.

This is not merely a matter of space and proportion, of physical layout. When you are admitted to hospice, you land in an open, airy, colorful room with a lovely view of the autumn leaves, and the heartening, kind and cheerful chatter of nurses and nuns, but you are still inward and small. Your physical space has expanded but your body and mind have moved further away. My brother’s world now is reduced to an hourly hit of pain meds and an occasional lucid moment. I watch him move to a fetal position, and wonder if the process of dying is taking him not only inward but backward. He converses, but his conversations are interior. His lips move but he says nothing. His agitation is soothed by the merest touch. He opens his eyes and announces he is going. I ask him where he is going and he replies that he is going to Florida. I bid him a safe journey and Godspeed, and he closes his eyes and fades back out.

But he is still here, lingering. S has his things about him, his own quilts and pictures and tshochkes, and he is suspended between two worlds, half in and half out of heaven. I lean in and tell him he’s got his boarding pass and is cleared for take-off whenever he’s ready to leave…and he stays, and he groans and we groan and pray. Evening comes and morning follows. The next day.

The support is heartening. The family is rallying, even the cousins are coming to help, to take a shift, to give S a manicure or a back rub or a flower. But with all of that, I think to myself so often, where would we be without prayer? And I thank God for those inexpressible groans which have the effect of enlarging our view, and giving our spirits some room to breath, of giving our souls some respose. As the world becomes the road to and from hospice and the room and the bed, prayer expands our breath, keeps us from suffocating. It brings balance.

About Elizabeth Scalia

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