I've been blessed to serve as a hospice and vigil volunteer with Visiting Nurse Service of NY (VNSNY) for a little over 5 years. A few months ago, I made a vigil visit with a beautiful family at a facility in Queens and wrote this afterward:
In his preface to the book "Awake at the Bedside" Koshin Paley Ellison sweetly writes about caring for his Grandma Mimi's body after her death. During the process he says he "thought of a Zen teaching that talks about how all we need to do is allow ourselves and the world to change." And although he thought the teaching seemed easier to say, he realized while caring for his Grandma’s body, in the midst of his grief, pain, love, and joy at his grandma's death, everything had changed and he was allowing it.
I read that passage as I began my vigil visit with a sweet patient at Queens Elder Care. It touched my soul as I watched him breathe and periodically reach for my hand. He was changing as was his world. When he struggled with breath he opened his eyes and reached for my hand; when his breath was smooth and easy he closed his eyes. Ebbing and flowing, dis-ease and then ease. Closing his eyes to intuitively allow himself and the world to change, following his life’s compass to the next destination, I thought.
Near the end of my shift, his daughter arrived with one of his grandsons who'd flown up from Florida to see his Grandpa. The grandson walked over to the bed and said, "Grandpa! I'm here to see you!" I talked for a bit with the patient's daughter who told me the story of her dad and her family through the collage of large photos, printed on paper that filled the wall across from her father's bed. She placed them there so he could see them when his eyes opened. She also shared with me how difficult it is to be one who’s responsible for all the medical choices made for her father. Something I can deeply relate to; especially the second-guessing around doing the "right" thing and making the "right" choices.
The passage about allowing the world to change and ourselves to change softly drifted around in my heart like a mantra as we were drawn to look over at Grandpa and Grandson. Grandson was talking quietly and scratching his Grandpa's head and Grandpa was happily craning his head upward for more scratching. His smile was bright, beautiful ... and contagious. We were all smiling. And in that moment he reminded me of a sweet little innocent child happily receiving all the love in the world.
Allowing them to have their family visit, I said goodbye and hugged them. Grandpa took my hand and kissed it. Daughter said, "Daddy's such a flirt ... he kisses all the girls' hands." He smiled. I smiled and left the room.
In that beautiful moment between Grandson and Grandpa, now a snapshot embedded in my heart, I was changed. In that sacred, precious, present moment it was reaffirmed that love is all there is.
That's all you can really do in these moments. Surrender to the deep connection that rests within and between us. Recognize that we are all one. Flow love. Simply BE love, GIVE love, and RECEIVE love that will be carried on your own journey home. Wherever that home might be.
Allowing the world to change ... allowing ourselves to change with the world ... fully surrendering to and experiencing the coming storms, fears, uncertainty, grief, love, loss, forgiveness, joys and miracles of life.
It's what makes us beautiful. It's what makes us human. It's what connects us. It's what opens our hearts. It's what brings us to wholeness. It's what brings us back home.
Grateful, grateful, grateful to be on this amazing, ever-expanding journey.