The Good Shepherd

I would like to say something about breath pacing, and about texts that we can recite to a dying Person.
I knew Mrs. Seiberth, and we had liked each other. I knew that she was a religious woman and that she wished that her son would come and see her. Asked why he doesn’t come she said: “He’s living far away. – But also, he is afraid of seeing me so sick.” When I was visiting her now she was in coma. She looked into an empty space. With every breath she made a coughing sound. I put my hands on her arm. Calm and slowly, with long pauses in the pace of her breath I recited the psalm of the good shepherd. Her breath went calmer and the coughing noise went silent. But at the words “thy rod and staff they comfort me” the coughing came back. Maybe they reminded her of something that made her sad? The concept of systematic desensitation of fears came to my mind. So I repeated these very words so often in a very calm and friendly tone till the coughing disappeared again. Then I continued. At the words “in the presence of my enemies” the coughing came back. I did the same procedure of repeating the words in a friendly tone till the coughing was gone and she was breathing calmly. At the words “Goodness and mercy will follow me all my life” her breath got even calmer. So I repeated these words many times till it got even calmer. I finished the Psalm and said “I would like to say bye-bye now.” Immediately the coughing noise came back and continued with every breath. “I will come back, I will come back, I will come back…” I said, and the noise disappeared. The next day I visited her I read the same psalm to her. Her breath was calm and silent all the time. Only when I said that now I would leave the coughing noise came back. “I come again, I come again, I come again…” I said till it was calm again. The next day I was about ninety minutes later than on the previous days. Entering her room I saw a man who introduced himself as her son. “She’s died an hour ago.” He said. „Was she still alive when you came?“ „Yes“, he said. (Stefan Hammel, Handbook of Therapeutic Storytelling, Karnac, London 2017/18)

Letting Go of Life

From my experience as a chaplain I see a lot of evidence that the ears of the dying are open till the last seconds. They may not be conscious. Maybe they’re like dreaming. But certainly they hear us and it makes a lot of difference what we say to them.
I remember being at the dying bed of a man. All the members of his family were assembled: His wife, his children and children in law, his brothers and sisters and grandchildren. Some of them were crying strongly. The man was breathing in short, quick, strong inhalations with long pauses between each breath and the next. I was wondering what he could understand of what was going on. He looked as if he were sleeping. Probably he was under a high dose of Morphine. I couldn’t detect any reaction in his face. When I prayed for him at the side of the dying bed I included a prayer that God may give both him and his family the ability of letting go while being aware of all the good that would rest with them. After the prayer there was a little silence. Then his daughter said: “Letting go is so hard. But I have heard that only when you let go of what you love it will really belong to you.” Then she looked over to her father and said: “He’s not breathing any more.” (Stefan Hammel, Loslassen und leben. Impress, Mainz 2016)

On the Effects of Last Rites

In my work as a chaplain I have been at many dying beds. I find it notable that people don’t want to call the pastor unless their Family member is really dying. Maybe they think that when the pastor’s been there, there’s no way back. You could take that as a superstition. But there’s some evidence that they may be right. I’ve seen people survive when the medical staff said they would die in the next few hours. I’ve seen one person survive for three days after the doctor told the relatives that according to brain death diagnostics the patient is already dead. I have not seen a single person survive after the pastor was there for a last prayer. I remember saying to a colleague: “I’ve always got a bad conscience. I feel as if I’m killing these people with my prayers. They all die within hours after I’ve been there.” He replied: “Oh, you as well?”
I remember being at a dying bed of an old woman. She was in coma, had an oxigene mask but still had trouble breating. There were about eight relatives around her bed, a tight-knit family clan. I spoke with them and I did a little ceremony. When I spoke the Lord’s prayer everyone spoke it with me real loud. It was quite a powerful experience. After I left the room one of the relatives said to me: “Did you see? When you came her heart rate was at 90 but during the Lord’s prayer it was at 140.” The nurse said: “It can take hours or days, we don’t know.” I remember answering: “It’s a strange thing. Mostly people die within hours after these prayers.” She left that uncommented. 15 min later I got a phone call that the lady had died and the relatives wanted to see me once again. The same nurse opened the door. “I had to think of your words”, she said.

¿Dónde están las estrellas durante el día?

Ella tiene dos años y muchas preguntas. “¿Dónde están las estrellas durante el día?”, por ejemplo le pregunta a su padre.
“En el cielo”, contesta este, “así como por la noche.”
“¿Entonces están apagadas? Es que no brillan para nada.”
“¡Claro que sí! Siguen brillando. Pero el sol es tan luminoso que ya no se ve la pequeña luz de las estrellas. Es como cuando ya no oyes música baja si de repente alguien pone en marcha una máquina ruidosa. La música baja todavía está, solo ya no se la percibe. La música está acallada y las estrellas están deslumbradas.”
Ella piensa un momento y dice: “Ahora sé también donde están mis sueños durante el día cuando estoy despierta.”

(Por Stefan Hammel, traduccíon: Bettina Betz)

El vuelo del águila

No sé si ya alguna vez hayas visto un águila. Claro, en el parque zoológico, pero en eso no estaba pensando. Si uno ve un águila en el zoológico, esa parece sin ganas, cansada y medio dormida. ¿Pues qué debería hacer? Un águila fue creada para volar, y eso no lo puede hacer en una jaula, en todo caso no verdaderamente. Lo que a mí me impresiona de las águilas es su fuerza y como la manejan. Se podría pensar que un ave tan grande también aleteara fuertemente cuando vuela. Pero eso no le hace falta a un águila. Traza círculos en el cielo, y aunque solo pocas veces mueve sus alas, puede subir hasta que la perdemos de la vista. ¿Cómo es que el águila sabe que es capaz de volar? Si un semejante animal pudiera hablar – creo que no empezaría a cuestionar la existencia del aire antes de ponerse a volar. Las águilas no necesitan pruebas. A ellas les basta de ser sostenidas. El resultado les sirve de prueba.

Le nom sécret

Quand un enfant indien arrive au monde il reçoit un nom de ses parents. Ce nom n’est que provisoire, c’est-à-dire il peut changer ou être complété par un autre nom. De la part du sorcier de la tribu l’enfant reçoit en outre un nom secret qui est son vrai et propre nom et connu seulement de lui. Personne ne peut toucher à ce nom. Personne ne peut en faire un mauvais usage. Son vrai nom n’appartient qu’à lui. L’enfant indien reçoit aussi une pierre de la part du chamane. Si le sorcier meurt avant que l’enfant ait appris son nom de sa part, le jeune indien se retire à un endroit désert. Il reste à cet endroit jusqu’à ce que la pierre lui dévoile par un rêve ou une autre révélation son vrai nom. Dans beaucoup de ces pierres il y a des druses, ce sont des cavités avec des pierres précieuses. Dans d’autres il y a de l’or, et dans toutes il y a un enchantement curatif et la force du nom clandestin.

Un ángel para el camino

En el siglo anterior, en nuestra región vivía un hombre que era conocido por los milagros que sucedieron a menudo en su cercanía. Personas que habían sido declaradas incurablemente enfermas se recuperaron después de que él había rezado por ellas.
Ese hombre tenía una costumbre especial. Cuando se despedía de alguien, solía decir: “Te mando un ángel para que te acompañe en el camino.” Mucha gente se extrañaba de eso. Por un lado ya en aquel tiempo había muchas personas que no creían en ángeles. Y entre los otros había algunos que podrían haber dicho:” ¿Cómo puede mandar a los ángeles? Es que los ángeles sólo obedecen a dios.”
No sé si eso sea correcto. Incluso tengo dudas, si la gente que dice tales cosas en realidad entiende lo mínimo sobre los ángeles. Pero sé que mucha gente, que habían visitado a ese hombre, volvía a casa llevándose una paz profunda. Y desde ese mismo día se sentía amparada. Por eso me da igual lo que piensen los otros si ahora te digo: “Te mando un ángel para que te acomp

The White Ceiling

He looked at the white ceiling. He had been lying here for weeks. He didn’t know for how long. His breathing was laboured. At first this rattling sound had irritated him every time he breathed out. Now he hardly noticed it. Sometimes he tried to cough, but his strength failed him. He tried to lift his arms. He could hardly manage. Everything was tired and limp. Only his stomach cramped, endlessly. This pain made him miserable.

The remedy which he was given helped a little, but not enough. Part of the torture remained. A much too large part. He wished to be finally free. Above all from the pain. He looked up at the white ceiling. How long would he still lie here? He imagined how this ceiling opened and the ceiling above that, and the one above that again. He looked into the blue sky. He saw the clouds floating. He imagined how it would be to fly up there and observe the whole world from above. To see his own life from above. He imagined himself flying through space.

At some point he saw a large, open hand. Something lay in the hand. He went closer to the hand in order to see more closely. In the hand lay a man; in the hand lay he himself. He saw himself, how he was lying there, so protected and quiet. He was amazed. He looked around him. There he saw another hand. Like the first, it was open, and its inside formed a gentle hollow.

He saw how the first hand with the man, who was him, moved closer to the other. And he knew it was all right. Now the two hands lay next to each other. Gently and carefully the first hand tilted and let him slide into the other. Then he woke up. He looked around him and saw, that the white ceiling was no longer above him.

The Victory

The goal of each life is – in some sense – death. When one among us reaches this point, the others often say he has lost his life. When a person died among the first Christians, they used to say: He has won his life! He has succeeded! And they wove this man a victory wreath so as to celebrate with him! A victory wreath, just as the ones the victors from tournaments had received in those days! The custom of sending a man to his grave with a wreath has remained. The message of this wreath is forgotten. It goes thus: You are a winner!

Everything Else

In a land in our time there lived a man, who read a book and found lots of wonderful stories therein. There were true and invented stories, experienced and pensive, enjoyable and painful stories. There were stories which contained stories, and such which were actually not stories. For every story he read, there occurred to him nearly five which he had either experienced or thought up himself. So the thought came to him, that a lot in the world was a story which could be healing for himself and others; he only needed to absorb the healing stories well and to forget the terrible ones immediately. Then he would learn which story he had used when and for what. So he organised his own stories which he knew, and which had become a help to himself and others, or could become so. Sometimes he noted it down when a new story came to his ears and sometimes when a helpful story occurred to him, he memorised it.

Then he saw before him in a picture the storystories of this life arranged in long shelves, as in a large pharmacy. And behind the counter there sat a man who had learnt to listen to himself and others. He was a master of his subjectspecialty. His talent was that he understood how to tell the right thing at the right time to himself and to those who visited him.