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Letting Go Can Be An Act Of Loving-Kindness

Room 426 at the University Hospital looked like a cheerful, fun-filled, child's room in an affluent suburb.  Colorful posters brightened the walls.  Upbeat slogans on computer printout paper called for determination, hope, and willpower.  Flowers in vases created a spring-like ambience.  It was a picture of life, zest, vitality.   Two attractive young women rose to meet me at the door, both exuding radiant smiles and sparkling enthusiasm.

They asked if they could speak to me alone outside the room before I talked with their mother.  Reluctant, but curious, I agreed.  My well-trained early-warning system guessed what was coming.  They wanted to head off any possibility that I might spread morbidity on their mother or in some way reduce or dilute her will to survive.  They wanted her to live.   They were determined she would live.  I assured them that I would cooperate, so they released me to go to their mother's bedside.

Mother lay there like a patch of paleness in the midst of a field of color.  Her weakness struck a dramatic contrast to the vitality of her dynamic daughters.  She spoke softly.  Her mind worked clearly.  She immediately understood my mission and reached out a frail but warm hand of welcome.  The watching daughters fortunately took me at my word and allowed me to visit alone with their dear mother.  And mother proceeded to tell how the ordeal of illness wore on her.   She felt so very tired from a long struggle with a failing heart.  She wished now she could slip into sleep and wake up in the presence of Jesus.  "But," she said, "The girls need me so badly.  I guess I just have to hang on for them."

Now it was my turn to call for a huddle.  The lounge of the cardiac-care unit waiting room provided a good space.  "I wish someone else could do this for me,” I thought, as we found our places to sit together.  Exactly how we eased into my agenda I don't recall, but we did.  I gently suggested to the daughters that they consider "letting their mother go. "  Predictably and understandably, I met resistance and godly argument: β€œIt’s wrong to just let her die!”  "They are probably right," I thought, so I backed down a little, shaken out of my bold belief that their mother's whispered wishes ought to be honored.  "Well, think about it," I offered, as a parting resurgence of confidence welled up within me.  I spoke a careful prayer.  We parted.

In two days I returned.  A different pair - the same daughters - met me.  They appeared changed.  The sisters greeted me with warmth but not with the high-level radiance of our first meeting.  Again they asked for a consultation before I walked in to see their mother.  She was sleeping anyway, so we stepped out into the hall.

They had clearly heard what I said at our last meeting.  They reacted with anger at first, they admitted, but, as they talked with each other began gradually to realize it was THEIR wish, THEIR desire, that Mother should live.  Not Mother's.   Mother hung on to life for them.  Enduring soul-searing weariness, she continued to cling to life for their sakes, because they begged her to.  Tearfully, now, they acknowledged their entanglement in a powerful web of self-centered love blotting out sensitivity to their mother's needs.  Prayer, they said, had changed their minds during the forty-eight hours since our original confrontation.  Their enlightened love stood willing now to let Mother go.  It was not what their hearts longed for, but they knew it was right.  Fairness and love called for releasing her.

Now a formidable task awaited.  Contrary to popular thinking, the capacity to stay alive, or to give up life, often rests in a person's own spirit, at least partly.  Mother had decided to live, for the family.  The young women understood their awesome assignment.  It was to go and tell Mother they would be alright if she went to Jesus; that she could leave.  Finished with my part, I excused myself.  This was their personal, private, holy ground.  They needed to walk it alone at their pace.

In the privacy of Room 426, Mother and daughters entered the most difficult task of their lives.  It was agonizing, but they did it.  Surprisingly, their mother brightened for a few hours after the conversation with her daughters.  Then, only twelve hours later, peacefully slipped away to the brighter place waiting for her.  And two loving daughters began to work through their grief.   Heavy sadness swept over them, but assuaged by the deep satisfaction of having walked through the valley of the shadow of death in the most meaningful way possible.  Hand in hand they'd ushered the one they loved to a better place.

Letting go is not always the right answer.  There is a time to fight, to hang on, and rally all energy for another kind of win.  Heaven and earth cheer such victories too.  Both fighting for life or quietly moving on can be expressions of LIVING faith.  Here, it was time to go.

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