Moving From Doubt to Faith by William H Griffith
All the passages below are taken from William H. Griffith’s book, “More than a Parting Prayer—Lessons in Care-giving for the Dying.” It was published in 2004.
At one time, men built
palaces of stone,
as their way of commemorating
There are other ways to perpetuate
the memory of your loved one.
Through your own life
you can prolong the memory.
-Earl A. Grollman
FAMILY COMMUNICATION is unique to individual families. Some families are composed of members who are quiet, private individuals. Even though they share a common space, they respect one another’s solitude. Communication within this type of family is mostly centered on coordinating and meeting the practical, day-to-day needs. Children in this type of family often grow into adulthood and at some point realize that they don’t know much about their parents. They value what was taught to them and what their parents mean to them, but they admit that they don’t know much about their parents’ personal beliefs and convictions.
Such was the case with Faith’s family. Faith was eighty-seven years old and dying.
“If you could come and talk with Mother, I think we’d all feel better,” her concerned son, Mark, began his conversation with me over the telephone. “I don’t know if she has prayed the sinners prayer.”
As intimate as family members may be, there are times when they are not sure about one another’s spiritual journeys. The son who made this request shared his own personal belief and convictions with me about salvation, and he said that he needed to know if his mother had ever prayed the “sinner’s prayer.” His brother and sister were in agreement with this desire. These were adult children in their fifties. I told the son I would be there in about thirty minutes.
When I arrived, I met the other brother and sister in the lounge. I clarified the request with them and suggested that they not be in the room when I talked with their mother. They all agreed. They said that their father was in the room, sitting at the bedside with their mother, who was alert and talking. They offered to go into the room with me to meet their parents.
As we gathered at the bedside, Mark introduced me to his father, Harry, and his mother. He then said that he and his siblings would leave and allow me to speak with their mother. Harry got up to leave with them, but I said, “Why don’t you stay and share this time with us?” He sat back down and again took his wife’s hand.
As the other family members left the room, I sat in a chair by the bed. After a brief silence, l said to Faith, “Where did you get the name Faith?”
She moistened her lips, obviously dried from medications, and replied, “My mother was a religious woman, and her father was a minister.”
“It sounds to me like you had a very thoughtful, caring mother,” I replied.
“I sure did,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes, indicating that it was pleasant for her to remember her mother.
After a brief pause, I asked her, “Are those religious teachings that you grew up with helpful at this particular time, in your condition?”
Her immediate smile and response were very convincing. She said, “Yes, they certainly are. I know God loves me, and God knows I love him. I pray every day.” I responded by saying that she must then know about God’s wonderful forgiveness offered to each of us. She said, “I not only know about it, I’ve experienced it.”
I affirmed her statement of faith and her love for God and her family. Harry and I held her hands, and I offered a prayer on their behalf.
I said good-bye and returned to the lounge where the other family members had gone. I shared with them a summary of our conversation and the statement of faith their mother had made. They expressed an appreciation for my coming.
During the next two days, their patterns of communication changed, and they grew more comfortable with sharing with one another. During this time, they discovered a lot about their mother that they hadn’t known.
Faith died the following Wednesday, and Mark asked the unit staff to contact me and see if I would conduct his mother’s funeral. At the service, the family shared with me that just before Faith died, she had awakened and asked that all the family gather at her bedside. When they were all there, she spoke in a very clear and strong voice, telling them how much she loved them and how they were to love one another. Shortly after that, she died. It was a final memory of her that they could treasure.
Because of this memorable moment, the family asked that I conclude the funeral service with the reassuring Scripture from I John 4:7, 11: `Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”
Each of them felt that it was their mother’s legacy.
Lessons for Caregivers
A terminal diagnosis gets the attention of every member of a family. How they deal with the information and communicate with one another most often is a continuation of the patterns that have already been created in their family relationships. This was evident when Faith’s adult children did not feel comfortable sharing with their mother their desire to know more about her spiritual journey. For some reason, the topic was off limits. They did, however, feel strongly enough about it that they talked among themselves about what to do and shared their concern with the nurse on duty.
Caregivers of the dying need to be sensitive to family members and hear their concerns, hopes, and fears. There will be times when the end-of-life issues they are dealing with will relate to unresolved matters with the person who is dying. When a caregiver hears such a concern expressed, it is important to discuss ways that the matter can be resolved and to offer to assist in resolving it. To resolve such matters provides both the dying person and the family members a peace that will prevent them from living with regrets.
It is important for the caregiver to listen to how the family’s concerns are verbalized; he can learn a lot from the vocabulary that is used as well as from the tone in which the concerns are shared. Mark expressed his concern about his mother to me with a religious vocabulary that told me there were some conservative Christian influences within the family. It was obvious to me that Faith’s adult children knew the value of their own spiritual journeys but did not know if their mother shared a common experience. Given the terminal nature of her disease and the limited time remaining, they wanted to be assured of their mother’s salvation.
The caregiver also needs to handle the family’s need based on what he or she has learned from those who expressed the concern. Faith’s children knew that it would be best if I spoke alone with their mother and father and addressed their concern, rather than their making a direct request of her. In such a situation, there is no reason for a caregiver to create any additional problems by identifying the source of the concern, since the matter can simply be addressed through a caring conversation. [80-83]