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For a whole week I visited a very distant inlaw relative in hospital. She had had a massive heart attack and two strokes and was not expected to survive. Very elderly, a concentration camp survivor who had no children and whose spouse had predeceased her and very few friends left.

As I called in after work day in and day out, I couldn’t move or shake my thoughts away from Gethsemane. I kept thinking about Gethsemane, as I always do when someone is in the last moments/hours. I don’t know why but I do. Hooked up to tubes and machines and in a strong delirium and thrashing about it was hard to watch.

I could hear her recollections of events of WWII and abuse and her tormenting noises. She called her “daughter” though none existed. (or maybe she did) and calling her husband. And of course she didn’t recognise me or any of the few who called to see her. And I reflected on her words during the delirium, of things we knew nothing about. Of her reliving incidents. And all I could do was sit and wait and hold her hand (she held so tight) sometimes late into the night and talking with her and telling her “stuff” and still I kept thinking about Gethsemane. The waiting and the watching. I am not sad that she has gone because she had wanted to go to her husband. But still the waiting..

Whenever we read the story of Gethsemane we hear Jesus ask Peter, James and John to wait and watch with Him (Mt 26:38) but they don’t. They drift into a doze under some heavy emotional weight.
Jesus, I presume, had hoped that they might have stayed with him a while and accompanied him, and supported him in that hour of his “aloneness” but somehow they couldn’t. There was a sense of heaviness which stopped this from happening. They couldn’t be present to Him and for Him because they had a sense of dread of the unspeakable. Something which they could not name but would surely happen. They couldn’t stay awake and pray because they might have been “prayed out” and when someone is prayed out someone else has to take over probably like the Cyrene, I think Sula felt like this, so I prayed for her daily as I sat by her bedside.

Ostensibly it appears that the apostles let Jesus down and abandoned Him and perhaps it could be said that they did, but when we stand and hold the hand of a dying person, whenever we wait an hour and another hour with someone to turn the corner or to go. Whenever, we spend hours sponging the dry lips and dry tongue of someone who can’t ,then we wait awhile, as asked. Whenever we close the eyes and catch the last gasp of breath of a human being who is leaving for home, then we fulfill the request of Jesus to wait awhile.
The friends of Jesus can be harshly judged for “sleeping” and yet we know how hard it is to wait and wait especially when we reach a place where we feel we cannot go further, and then we have to allow others to carry us while we sleep.

I suspect that the friends of Jesus reached a stage where they couldn’t pray or help anymore. They just drifted. It has been said that the wine helped the sleeping. Perhaps. It helped to dull the aching pain of something different with that night. Ominous. The beginning of the separation from their loved one …Jesus.
Whenever, we can wait an hour praying, sighing, or holding a frail hand or sponge a brow or lips, then we are doing this for Jesus, We stand in for Peter, James and John, who couldn’t at that moment stand a while with Him “whatever you do for the least of my friends you do for me” (Mt 25:31-46).

As I reflected on the life of Shula and the sufferings she endured it was a quiet privilege to “watch and wait” and hold her hand and give her drink, and then she left quietly not to disturb…when I was asleep.

Anne Lastman

Anne is a qualified post abortion grief counsellor and sexual abuse counsellor who has worked in this area for nearly 30 years. Over the years Anne has developed a recovery strategy, which works well for those who persevere with the programme. Anne continues to study post abortion grief and the related, sexual abuse grief, which manifest with similar symptoms.

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