This evening I heard a physician, who is also a Roman Catholic deacon, share a story about a dying woman to whom he would bring Communion.
The 50-year-old woman had uterine cancer that had metastasized into her spine and, understanding the gravity of her condition, he found himself surprised that she was still alive each time he went to visit her.
Eventually, he decided to ask her, “Do you have something you need to do?”
This question invited an response and she answered, “Yes, I do. I need to become a Canadian citizen.”
It turns out that this woman was very close to finalizing her citizenship and needed to do so in order for her children to receive their citizenship and avoid deportation back to Hong Kong.
On hearing this, the physician-deacon phoned a citizenship judge friend of his and explained the situation. When the citizenship judge heard the request, he agreed to meet the woman the next day so that she could swear the oath.
After successfully completing the path to citizenship, the woman died three days later.
What struck my friend and me about this story is the value of a person saying to someone in such a situation, “I’m involved in your life.”
By asking someone who is nearing death what he or she might still need to do, this question reveals a certain investment in the person’s story and concern for the person’s heart.
It also implicates the one who asks in the quest for the resolution to anything that is unfinished or unaddressed.
Far from wanting to be left alone or to receive vague, notional words of support, a person nearing death wants those around him or her to say, with more than words, “I’m involved in your life!”