Set Free to Grieve and Heal

In the Bible, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

Bad Jesus! Law-breaking Jesus!

Once he was accused of healing a woman who’d been in physical agony for nearly two decades. Jesus replied (Luke 13:16) to his critics with, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

Not only did Jesus ignore the rule of not working on the Sabbath, the person healed was a . . . woman. In that era, women were property, mere second-class citizens. Worse yet, the incident occurred in a synagogue.

That verse in Luke encouraged the reader, in Jesus’ time or today, to never forget the human need to be “set free from . . . bondage.” Though I’m a Christian minister, this passage’s truth isn’t limited to Christians. Whether you’re Hindu or Buddhist, hedonistic or agnostic, or spend weekends worshiping at a favorite golf course, I think the healing story resonates with most people.

I’ve seen it in my hospice work. One of the suggestions I made to families when I was their hospice chaplain was letting their loved one know it’s all right for them to die. How difficult it is to say those words! And yet how essential it may be to hear them.

I would ask people of religious faith served by hospice, as they wept and worried, if they were ready to tell their beloved that death was not the end. It may be time to let go and trust God, Allah, the Higher Authority, or the other holy names we use. I would ask people of no religious faith served by hospice, as they too wept and worried, about inviting the one dying to trust death would not erase the meaning and memory of their life. Let go; let the suffering end. And regardless of the presence or absence of religious beliefs, how hard—and important—it can be to reassure parents, spouses, or children that you’ll be okay after their death.

One of my patients, in the care of her brother and sister-in-law, was quietly and lovingly told she could die. In silence, and with spoken words, they prayed by her side. She was ready; they were ready. And yet days went by till death finally happened. Why did her death take so long? It’s an answer I can’t give. But I believe, as I spent time with her family, that while they would forever feel her loss, their grieving would also turn toward a path of healing. Their good work at making her last days meaningful meant that her dying and their living were shaped by freedom and honesty.

Another patient’s wife never told him it was all right for him to die. She couldn’t speak the words just as much as she couldn’t leave his side. I understood. His nurse and I wondered if that was why he lingered longer than anyone expected. We also wondered if he was aware that his lovely bride of over sixty years had left the room, briefly gone to fix her simple meal for one, when he finally died. I think he knew, and I think his last gift to her was not witnessing what she dreaded. She might not be able to tell him to die, but he could “tell” her to keep living.

A third patient, his cancer fiercely clawing at him, ordered his out-of-town daughters not to visit anymore. No deathbed vigils! He wanted to “protect” them. But his hospice nurse scolded him with, “Let them come and be with you.” And so, because it was the way he’d always communicated from his heart, he sent notes to his daughters, scrawled in his shaky handwriting. He released them from the bond he had created.

I asked him, “Are there things you want to say to your daughters, or is them being here with you the most important?”

Without hesitation, he replied, “I just want them to be with me.”

I think he learned—as I continue to learn—the potential for healing that comes when our loved ones, beside or in the “sickbed,” are released from bondage, from suffering.

Let the healing time of grief begin on the Sabbath, and every day of the week.

Larry Patten

More Articles Written by Larry

I am a writer, a United Methodist minister, and currently serve at a hospice in California. I maintain www.larrypatten.com (musings about faith) and www.hospice-matters.com. And just to remind myself that I’m never fully in control, my wife and I are raising a puppy. Whew. I have published two books, available on Amazon: A Companion for the Journey: 41 Reflections (Mostly) on the Lord's Prayer . . . and Another Companion for the Journey: 40 Reflections (and Questions) on Faith. Through my professional work at churches and in hospice, I understand it’s difficult to openly discuss dying and death, or to share how grief can impact us every day. Don’t feel like you’re alone with your concerns and questions. I look forward to your comments here at Open to Hope or at www.hospice-matters.com.

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