Harold* is waiting to die. There were six of us at his bedside in the county nursing home, leaning toward him singing softly, “Amazing grace . . . how sweet the sound . . . “ Tears in his eyes, he shook each of our hands saying, “Thank you, you don’t know how much that meant to me.” Little did he know how much it had meant to us . . . ..how much he meant to me.
Visiting Harold as a volunteer offered me a different perspective on life. For him, all the roles and rules that most of us live by have been stripped away. This 85 year old gentleman knows that he has a terminal illness. He tells me that he’s ready to go when the time is right. He has a twinkle in his eye as he tells me about how he used to sing tenor in the church choir.
Harold enjoys talking about his life: his years in the army, his career working for the phone company. He tells me about his wife, about his children and grandchildren. “I travelled all around the world but New Hampshire is the prettiest place on earth,” he says. He’s not bitter that he’s dying now – he feels lucky that he lived a long life. When I sit with him, I feel a certain gentleness, a peacefulness that surrounds us amidst the oxygen tubes and blinking lights.
His implicit message to me is “don’t wait to live.” Don’t get lost in the minutia of life, it will be so irrelevant in 40 or 50 years. When I leave his room and walk down the long corridor, I feel a renewed dedication to live with a joyful exuberance. And I reflect on how Harold models for me a dying process that is gentle and tender and accepting. I only hope that I will die with such ‘amazing grace’ when it’s my turn.
* Harold’s name and distinguishing personal details have been changed to protect his privacy.