As tumors are shattering her bones from the inside, he asks God for healing miracles. Her relatives have not visited for more than a week (though part of that is denial). Still, he never leaves her side, grateful that being unemployed means he can be with her, sleeping in the hospital night after night, a constant presence for his best friend, his beloved, the mother of their baby girl not even a year old.
“I was nothing when she met me, a street punk, homeless…she loved me anyway. She saved my life. I don’t want to live it without her.” I cry with him, because there’s nothing I can say except “I understand” and my tears tell him that. Then, on the other side of the room, I hear her voice, weak and quivering with pain, say his name – his name and something else I can’t understand that she repeats between the soft hissing of breath pulled through her teeth as she shifts and strains to get comfortable. I wait until more medicine intervenes and she finds rest again.
“Walk me to the front door, Manny…please…walk me to the front door.” He walks back across the room and repeats to me the plea she’s been making these last couple of days when pain crashes through the medications, startling her awake. Manny looks down as he shares her words with me. I know he knows, and I know it’s breaking his heart.
“What do you think she means, Manny?…Walk me to the front door…what does she want you to do?” We walk outside her room a bit and up the hallway toward a window that looks out on a beautifully promising sunny San Francisco day. I walk arm and arm with Manny, in a pace and rhythm that allows me to comfort this proud grieving young man as best I can, when every fiber of my being wishes I could rock him through the sobs I see coming. “I know Sondra wants to go home, she really wants to go home and see the baby. I know that’s part of it.” I wait, allowing the pause, searching his face as he looks away, out the window, seeing the tears pooled in his eyes. And then one falls. “But, I think she also means…” his voice breaks, more tears escape “she means she wants me to go with her as far as I can…to the front door of heaven. The rest…”, tears drop quietly off Manny’s chin as he whispers through his grief, “…the rest, she gotta do.”
Sondra’s words keep turning over in my mind and heart. I’m still in the thick of my questions, loneliness, crippling self doubt, unsettled in my life. I’ve struggled so much with living in my years here on earth, usually pretty convinced that dying is something I’ll do well if only because I’ve always sensed the veil between now and forever is very thin – birth and death are pretty much the same thing though in death we’re returning to “that home we’ve never left” as John O’Donohue said, to the Divine. Perhaps I fear life more than death. And yes, there are patients I sometimes wish I could give my life for, and Sondra would be one of them. But I don’t have that option. Instead, I’m asking God to help me with my own “she gotta do”.
I’m wondering tonight what door I’m standing before. In my deep longing for community, connection, purpose and healing, I hear Sondra’s words and her beloved Manny’s wise interpretation. There are parts of the journey where we can only be accompanied so far. The rest is up to us. No matter where the journey takes us, can we trust we are walking into the embrace of the Divine?