This past weekend things seemed to be coming to a head. I got several texts from Melissa, a 16-year old teenager I’ve taken under my wing.

The texts said:

  • “She has 2 days.”
  • “She (mom) is not doing well, I’m not doing well, it’s all happening – too much, I just don’t want to put any effort in anything.”
  • “I know f*&# my life.”

With her mother fighting for a day at a time the burden that is wearing on Melissa is wearing on her. This sounded dire.

A few hours later I got several calls from Debbie, a friend of Melissa’s mom who arrived from Phoenix to handle some of her friend’s affairs. In addition, Melissa’s grandparents were checking on their daughter and granddaughters. Everything appeared to be pointing to one thing: This may be the time of departure for Melissa’s mom.
I went to the hospital and packed a book of stories on angels and Marianne Williamson’s Illuminata, my favorite prayer book. I was prepared to face what appeared to be the inevitable, the last time I might see this person.
This wasn’t necessarily so. As my dear friend Dr. Marilyn Joyce once said (echoing Yogi Berra), it’s not over until it is over. Melissa’s mom was nowhere near giving up or letting go.
When I sit with her, I read to her and pray, both aloud and quietly to myself. I’m not sure what Melissa’s mother can hear, but I believe that of all the faculties, hearing is the last to go. It still surprises me how quickly she wakes when someone enters her room.
During our few minutes together, I reiterate my promise to her that I will keep an eye on Melissa. She thanks me. I ask her whether she’s thought of what will come after all this for her. Her answer throws me for a loop: Melissa’s mom shakes her head and adamantly says “no.”
I realize that she is not ready. I wonder if she hasn’t yet made peace with her situation. The only other person I saw die without being at peace was my own grandmother. I found it scary to watch, unsettling and even dark. I worry.
It could be, however, that her doctors and everyone else are wrong in their prognosis. That Melissa’s mother is not where they think she is – at end of the road.
I ask if she worries about her daughters. She nods. Suddenly the mood softens and I see a tear rolling down her cheek.

One thing is clear to me. This woman is willing herself to live. She will fight for every single day that she has.
Suddenly I feel uneasy and out of place. I don’t know what to say or do. Should I pray for a miracle? It seems an unlikely event. Would I rob her of her belief she can get better if I believe that her condition is terminal? What can I really safely talk to her about without upsetting her? In short I didn’t know how to support her and I feel terrible about that.
Has this happened to you? Have you been at a loss for words in a difficult and delicate situation? Let me know if you have any advice for me.

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