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Death, Where is Thy Victory?

March 29, 2014

by Stephen Damon

When I first met Andrea, our new hospice resident, two weeks ago she was very weak and could barely talk. I had been with many residents who were actively approaching the last day of their lives and so I recognized many of the signs. The nurses agreed that she was getting very close to the end. As I said, that was a couple of weeks ago. On Friday, she was able to talk, not only to me but also to the many people who called her on the phone. And she was able to walk around her room with just a little help from me. I had seen hospice residents rally before but none had progressed to the point that they could walk. How was this possible?

Before lunch we went to the patio so that she could smoke a cigarette and some medicinal marijuana. When she struggled with a match I offered to help her and she said, “No, I have to do this myself.” We were joined by another resident who had been at the facility for several months. Soon they were talking about all kinds of things, especially the kind of love they were experiencing for the first time in their lives. Telling us how weak and hopeless she felt when she first got here, Andrea said that she felt that she was just a day or two away from dying. She said everything changed because of her new surroundings.

She said that she had never before felt the “force” of love. Yes, she said, her daughters and sister love her, but that was because they were family. “You seem to love us for different reasons.” She had a faraway look in her eyes as if she were struggling to find words for something that she didn’t quite understand. In the silence that followed, I found myself also trying to say something about the kind of love we were both experiencing, but decided that the silence was the best way to experience the truth of the matter.

She broke the silence by telling me how the “devil” had ruled her life for many years, making her do things that were bad for her. She said that she always sensed his presence wherever she went. “But not here! I keep looking for him, but I can’t find him. I don’t know how you guys do that…”

Of course, I had read many books, essays and magazine articles about the power of love to heal people, but I always felt a little skeptical. Love could change how I felt about things but it could not change my physical health. Yes, I had seen people improve a little after arriving at the facility, but I didn’t really take that impression in to my mind and heart. Listening to my friends, I now could now put words to things that I had only dimly experienced. I had learned the simple truth that love can heal the body as well as the mind. Yes, Andrea will probably die soon, but not nearly as soon as everyone thought.

On the way to another resident’s room I found myself thinking about a couple of lines from the New Testament: O death, where is thy victory? O, death, where is thy sting?


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