Touching the Wall Gently – a reflection on dying

Yesterday I went swimming and was praying. Not for myself that I wouldn’t drown, I’m a reasonable swimmer. I was praying for others while I swam up and down because it’s an activity that creates some quiet and still headspace for prayer.

I have one close friend in mind especially so this blog piece is for her. Ed is coming towards the end of her life and yesterday transferred into a hospice.

As I swam, I made a connection between something I was doing with my body and my prayer for Ed. I mostly swim backstroke and the main risk of this is that you can’t see where you are going. If I’m not aware of my position in the pool, I can swim head-first into the wall and, boy, is that painful. You also feel a little silly, you have to stand up a bit dazed, desperate to rub your sore head whilst simultaneously putting on a ‘I’m okay/I meant to do that’ kind of face!

To avoid this I watch for the flags. At each end of the pool about 12 ft from the wall there is a line of flags overhead. As soon as I swim under these, I know the wall is coming. I stop windmilling my arms and just put one arm backwards on the water and paddle gently with my feet. The hope is that when I reach the wall, I will only have to touch it gently with my finger tips to know that I’ve arrived.

As I did this repeatedly yesterday, it struck me that in those last few yards lying stretched out on the water, the wall always seems unreal and a long time coming. Paddling gently, I was tempted to doubt that I had needed to slow down so early. But there it (inevitably) was. I had the choice to be ready for it or to power on regardless.

My prayer then for my friend is that this final stretch might be a gentle float and that touching the wall (and turning for home) might be the softest of touches. I know that the care of the Hospice team is entirely geared to that gentle outcome and I deeply appreciate them for that. I know that Ed herself is as peacefully ready as it is possible to be, with a calm that amazes me, although I know she too at times wonders ‘is that wall really there’?

Last week Ed and I shared Communion and some prayers for the dying. I didn’t make it through this one below without emotion but knowing that being in the hospice (in these Covid times) means more limited contact with the many who love you, my greatest desire is that Ed knows that all of us who love her are ‘with her in spirit’. I love this prayer because it expresses so well how we do not go alone, we are surrounded by the huge numbers of saints, angels, archangels, hosts, and by God himself. So, for all of us who would like to be there but can’t, maybe this prayer might help,

Edwina, go forth upon your journey from this world,

in the name of the Father Almighty who created you;

in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered death for you;

in the name of the Holy Spirit who strengthens you;

in communion with the blessed saints,

and aided by angels and archangels,

and all the armies of the heavenly host.

May your portion this day be in peace,

and your dwelling the heavenly Jerusalem.

Amen.

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