Giving Birth in Hospice
Pam spent last night sleeping in a chair beside her father’s hospital bed. He is dying.
“It is like sitting with someone who is giving birth,” Pam said. “It’s hard work. It can be frightening—you need strength and courage to undergo this suffering, this ordeal, to bring a life to birth. And,” she said, “it’s the same with dying. It’s hard work leaving this world, too, and you don’t want to do it alone.”
So she sat in the chair last night, where she could hold his hand. I knew she hadn’t slept in days, so I asked if she couldn’t pull the little bed they provided for her next to her father’s bed—so she could get some sleep. No, she wanted to sit where she could hold him, stroke his arm and his head. If all other senses had gone dark, at least he could feel someone holding him and know somehow that he was not alone.
I thought, Only a woman who has given birth would see that obvious symmetry, of coming and going, birthing and dying. “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb,” says Job, “and naked shall I return thither” (1:21). The womb from which we come and the tomb into which we finally descend are one and the same, Job says.
Can we trust that?
God is the one who yanks us bawling from the womb of life, and God is that same midwife who draws us back through the gate of death. We burst into the world on God’s out-breath, and “return thither” on the divine in-breath.
As Pam mused, however, it’s hard coming and going. It helps to have someone hold your hand, pray, be a witness to the miracle.