A small, elderly woman was sitting on the couch as I walked in the front door of her home. She had a prayer shawl covering her frail shoulders and thin arms, and she gave me a big, warm smile. She had an uncanny glow about her, I noticed, as I sat down in the chair next to her.
“I have had a good life. I have no regrets. I know that God is with me. I am okay,” Irene said. She reached out her hand to hold mine.
“I pray several times a day,” she continued. She pulled over her prayer box that was sitting on the couch next to her and showed me her large stack of prayers.
My eyes widened. I was mesmerized by this big box and what looked like a large pile of well-worn collected prayers. I was fascinated by the warm golden glow that extended from Irene and filled the room as I looked around.
“I have told God that I am ready. I have learned that all you need in life is love. I love everyone. I love my family and friends. Love is the answer,” Irene shared.
We spent the entire visit talking about love, her family and her friends. She had her share of hardships in life, and the power sustaining her was her love of God and love of family.
“Opening and feeling the love that is all around is what life is all about” Irene said.
On the next few visits, we delved into reading a wide range of her favorite prayers collected over the past 40 years. Irene continued to talk about her understanding of love as the answer to all.
“I have no fear of death. I know God is with me. All you take with you is the love in your heart and your ability to love. This is what it means to be alive.”
Two weeks later, I received a page from the hospice staff, who said Irene was transitioning and near the end of life. I arrived and was led to her bedroom. She turned her head slightly in my direction and wiggled her hand. I sat on the side of her bed and held her hand. A slight smile came across her face; her love was palpable. The sun was shining through the window, and light fell on the side of her face. She looked radiant and beautiful. Just being in her presence, I felt my heart expanding.
“All is well. You are ready. God is here,” I told Irene. I read one of her favorite prayers and looked deeply into her brown eyes. I smiled and thanked her for being a teacher for me.
Irene looked into my eyes, and a tear went down the side of her cheek. She squeezed my hand, and she closed her eyes.
Upon leaving her house, I knew she did not have long to live. Death felt very close, and she was ready to go. I thought to myself, “So this is what it feels like to have a wide-open heart. To feel love so completely that all else drops away, including any fear.”
She passed late that evening.
By facing straight into death with no fear but with love and an open heart, Irene taught me what love is and what it looks like. Where there is love, there is no fear.
Irene had mastered the biggest life lesson: life is about learning to love. We are called to love, and what we take with us at death is our capacity to love.
Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of this client.