This afternoon, I am visiting an elderly woman who invited me in. She says she is on her death bed, gazes out at an overcast sky and simply states, "I don't know if I'm going to make it."
"You're worried about dying?"
"Yes, I don't want to die."
"What are you afraid of?"
"It's not the dying part. I'm afraid it won't be true."
"What won't be true?"
"That there's a God, a heaven and all that. What if it isn't true?"
Her questions carry a discernible weighty doubt; her tone possesses an undefined heaviness. With her face now shrouded by a veil of tears, she gasps for breath…
"When my little doggy passed, I took it harder than I did when my own husband died," she begins to unwind. "Pepper was 15. I know it was probably her time, but, oh, how I've missed her." The woman's words melt into mournful cries. She cradles herself, slowly rocking back and forth, moaning…
Her calls for vindication give way to exhaustive catharsis. I practice listening while she continues to vet her deepest thoughts, now on display for the very first time.
We are as prospectors, together kneeling by the running brook of her past, panning with hope outstretched, searching for valuable nuggets: meaning, resolution and salvation of unresolved issues…
"Tell me more," I nudge.
"My husband died six years ago," she says with a start, her careworn eyes revealing a hint of relief in being able to finally open up. "Oh, kid, he was a difficult man. You'd never know what kind of mood he'd be in. When he was feeling good, everything was fine, but when he was down, look out. I thought of leaving him, yes, many times I thought of leaving him. It was unbearable."
"Where would I go? Besides, he was Catholic and they don't believe in divorce. When we got married, I would go to church with him, but I couldn't keep that up," she says emphatically, continuing to unravel a winding, jangled litany…
"Were you able to find another church?"
"No. I just stopped going. Growing up, it wasn't something we did anyway," she says dismissively. And then pausing, she looks around and says, "I just hope I can get out of here."
"Tell me about Pepper."
Teary-eyed, she looks off in the distance; her eyes, blowing kisses to consoling times gone by…
"I loved my 'Pepper.' She showed me more love than my husband ever did. Pepper and I, we were like this," she demonstrates, her arm extended toward me with her long slender middle finger crossed tightly over her index finger. "I miss her. I know I shouldn't feel this way. She was just a dog, but I loved her so and she loved me," she says, dropping her arms to her sides.
"How did Pepper die?"
"She couldn't stop going. I had to take her outside every 15 minutes, and she could hardly walk. I hated to do it, but I had her put to sleep."
A brief intermission before she revisits the central theme of our conversation. "Does He really exist?"
In this uncomfortably sad moment at the intersection of life and death, I can acutely feel the hard turning gears of faith formation – hers and mine. I wonder what I am doing here. What will I say? My thoughts whine, why me? Why, God, have you so oddly called me to this dying woman's bedside?
At this point, it wouldn't take much for me to say my goodbyes. I had things to do, places to go, a life to live. I'm feeling totally unprepared to respond to the theological dilemma she has placed before me; although, I really do want to see her through.
While attempting to tourniquet her fears, I quickly assemble a mental list of the Bible lessons of my youth…
"He does exist," I clumsily reassure. "He loves you in a way you've never experienced," I continue rattling. "His love is boundless, immeasurable," I utter, gaining steam. "He is waiting for you with open arms. The house He has prepared is a peaceful, beautiful mansion, where all the pains of this life are gone. Do not be afraid."
Immediately, I wager on what she will ask next, concerned I've exhausted all the "Don't worry; be happy" Christian axioms.
An hour has passed. The woman's tearful confession, an antidote for long-held anxiety, concludes.
Calm contrition passes over. With contended eyes, she says, "Thank you for coming to see me, kid. Come back again, if I'm still here."
2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on FaceBook.