Consolation is a beautiful word. It means ‘to be’ (con-) ‘with the lonely one’ (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation.
To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, ‘You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.’ That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as to receive it.
~ Henri Nouwen Bread for the Journey
When you sit on the bedside of a dying friend, one most often anticipates giving consolation. Perhaps praying with them or simply holding their hand. Being present. Ministering to them however possible.
On the afternoon of the 24th of March, at the besides of my dying friend, I became the recipient of consolation I never anticipated.
Having read her beloved Psalm 19, with her frail hand in one of mine, I thought Carolyn had fallen asleep. For the first time in about a week, she actually seemed more peaceful.
Sitting quietly beside her for a few more moments, I was about to say a whispered prayer before I left, when Carolyn squeezed my hand.
“I’m ready to go home soon,” she murmured, cracking open her deep brown eyes, looking up to meet my blue ones. “Will you pray?”
“Of course, Carolyn.” Of course.
And so I prayed, with one hand holding one of her hands, and the other gently on her forehead. Words I’ll always remember some of, a few were things God must have led me to pray but that I don’t remember as vividly. Most, though, I still recall as if it were yesterday. As always, I quietly ended with, “We love You, Jesus.”
I hesitated, leaned over to kiss her forehead, preparing to leave, I heard her trembling voice.
My dear friend, the one I’d prayed with many, many times a week over the past 9 or so months, as always, wanted to pray for me. She’d hardly been able to utter many sentences at a time the last few weeks. Every word requiring energy her failing body no longer had.
And just as I remember most of the things I prayed for and over her, gratefully, I remember most of the words and things she prayed over me, as well. I remember just as clearly the tears silently running down my cheeks. And I remember her, “We love You, Jesus.” We sat in silence together for a few minutes afterward. Words were no longer need. Or maybe just insufficient.
Here I had come to console and minister to her, and now, before I left, she spent some of her few remaining breaths praying for me.
That will likely always be one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
And that will always be one of the most treasured prayer times in my life.
With a kiss on her forehead, a hug, and an, “I love you,” I walked to the bedroom door.
“I’ll see you soon,” I whispered, turning back to face her bed from the doorway. Her brown eyes looked over, and her lips turned upward in a slight smile.
Although neither of us acknowledged it out loud, I’m sure both of us knew that wouldn’t happen.
Or at least not “soon” in the sense we normally meant it.
Carolyn died on March 31, 2000, a week after we last prayed together. A week after my dying friend sacrificed so much and also prayed for me – what a humbling gift.
And, in so many ways, it was all so reminiscent of what went on in Upper Room before Jesus died.
I’m always so thankful when the anniversary of Carolyn’s death falls close to Easter – or even on Easter as it does this year.
For the hope of Easter takes away some of the sting of her death that still tucks itself away in a piece of my heart.
We know this isn’t the end for those of us who believe – it’s not the end of our own lives, and it’s not the end for those who know Him who preceded us in death. What a comfort and amazing gift of grace that is that God has freely given to all of us who accept it!