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By Melody Meeter
A few weeks ago I was visiting Robert in the inpatient hospice unit connected with our hospital. I knew him to be a religious man who thought deeply about matters of faith.
The first time I met him he told me, “I know now that it’s all about love.” He related how a coworker whom he had always disliked had been coming regularly to visit him and he found, to his surprise, that he now “loved him.”
On this day I sat beside his bed as Robert drifted in and out of sleep. At one point Robert startled awake, looked at me and asked, “Is that a picture of The Last Supper?” He was referring to my necklace with its art glass pendant. It is abstract—brown hash marks and yellow flecks on a translucent field of green. I’d never seen anything figurative in it.
We’d talked before about Robert’s spiritual journey, how he’d been raised Catholic, left the church after a divorce and then found faith again in a large evangelical congregation. However, through his long illness, he had lost connection with that church.
“Hmmm,” I said now, as I lifted the pendant and turned it, to see if I could see what he was seeing. At one point in the conversation that followed I asked if he would like to receive communion and he said yes.
That evening I remembered a small framed print of the Da Vinci painting that a church member from a previous parish had given us. She had created a 3D effect by cutting out the table and its tiny figures from several prints and layering them, as if suspended, on top of the intact background print. The next day I took it to Robert, along with my communion kit, with its minute glass vial and silver dollar sized paten, which makes me think of a tea party.
I showed Robert the picture, bringing it close to his face, and asked where he was in it. He pointed immediately to the man at Jesus’ right hand, the one that’s meant to be John. He said he felt Jesus was close to him all the time. We shared communion. I set the Lord’s Supper print on his bedside table.
On the second to last day that Robert was alive, I found his family around his bed. He was sleeping, or unconscious, breathing heavily. I had a prayer book with me, but I hesitated to go to the prayers for the dying section. One of his children did not want to talk about his father’s dying and assured me that he would wake up and “talk to us again.”
The prayer book fell open to Psalm 131. I kid you not. I had never used this Psalm at a deathbed before but it instantly seemed like the perfect one now.
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother’s breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul.
This is the RSV version, not the translation I read from the Book of Common Prayer at Robert’s bedside. But I like this translation because “weaning” is not mentioned so I picture a child that has fallen asleep at her mother’s breast after nursing. When I wear my necklace now I will think of Lord’s Supper. When I read Psalm 131 will think of communion and I will think of dying to the Lord.