Recollections of Javier by Sam Geffner
Although I knew Javier only briefly, and saw him only 5 times before his recent death, each of my interactions with him was unique, meaningful, and heart-opening. He was that kind of a person during the time I knew him. He was a sweet man, who bore the pain of his illness with a stoic resolve and a smile that was informed by his Christian faith and the firm belief that God had a plan for him which justified the discomfort of a protracted dying process.
The first time I was introduced to Javier he was in his room resting in bed, and happy to see me: he was very lonely, he said. He was in pain, lacked the energy to get out of his room and make friends around the facility. He missed the members of his congregation, who were his main friends and who found it hard to cross the Bay to visit him. He spoke of his faith and I offered to pray with him. It was quite unexpected to hear myself offer this; I don’t pray and certainly not to a God. What I said then was a reframing of what I believe for someone who did believe.
I asked that God grant him the ability to stay in the moment and not have worries about the past or the future but rather to bear only his burden at each moment; that God grant him the wisdom and strength to pay attention only to the one present moment and to attend to it carefully for evidence of his connection to the entire universe surrounding him. That the present moment included all that he could feel in every part of his body and all that he could see out his window and all the people he knew and remembered with love and all of the universe that contained all of this¦
What am I doing?â€ I thought with one part of me. It felt so weird to talk of a God as if she were a person, whom I do not personally believe in. I am not a chaplain. But I also noticed that Javier was beginning to listen with such rapt attention, and then after I enumerated the blessing of attending to each thing, he began to say, “Amen!” With each suggestion that he master his situation with attention, “Amen!” With each wish that he find the strength to bear the awareness that each moment brought, “Amen!” With each part of his body blessed with freedom from worry, “Amen!” “Amen!” Tears began to leak from his eyes, and then also from mine. After fifteen minutes of such prayer, we closed with a shared “Amen!” My belief in God may have been a considerable exaggeration, but my fondness for Javier’s simple gentle faith was genuine.
I asked him how he felt, and he smiled broadly. He felt great, and at peace for the first time that day.
The last time I saw Javier was at UC Hospital, in hospice care. He was gone beyond conscious response, and had begun the rasping Cheyne-Stokes breathing that signaled that he was nearing the end of his life. I spent some time with him speaking to him, partly out of the hope that there was some part of him that still could hear my voice and partly because it was a comfort to me to verbalize my fondness for him and my wishes that he was passing on to God as he had expected. I was again surprised at how quickly I had come to feel love for Javier and how genuine my wish that he find comfort in the process of his passing and whatever lay beyond. I suppose we were again praying together. My last wish spoken to Javier was that he find the God of his faith, who would ease his passing, a God who would welcome him with open arms.