Introduction

A brother asked one of the elders, saying: There are two brothers, of whom one remains praying in his cell, fasting six days at a time and doing a great deal of penance. The other one takes care of the sick. Which one's work is more pleasing to God? The elder replied: If that brother who fasts six days at a time were to hang himself up by the nose, he could not equal the one who takes care of the sick.

Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Trans. Benedicta Ward SLG
Cistercian Publications, 1975

Walking with loved ones as they approach death is a sacred time. Your hands, your touch, your care are instruments of God's presence. Your voice allows your loved one to trust so he or she can move into a new relationship with God. You are standing on holy ground.

Yet as the demands of caring for your loved one's physical and spiritual needs become overwhelming, it is easy to forget that you also are a spiritual being. The words “spiritual” or “spirituality” can seem vague. Simply put, spirituality is the heart's longing to feel connected to God, or a higher power. As spiritual beings, we desire God's presence, especially during difficult times. Your watch, or vigil, can seem like a journey in the wilderness where you hunger and thirst for the awareness of God's presence. This book will contain some bread for your journey.

You may experience God's presence flooding over you as you sit with your loved one. On the other hand, you may feel as if God has abandoned you - what John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul.” You may be filled with anger that God is not hearing your prayers. Possibly you fear that the flicker of God's presence in your life is not enough to sustain you in the hours ahead. Regardless of what your relationship with God is, at this time you likely desire a deeper connection to God. You want to know God is here.

It is our hope that something in this vigil material will offer a balm to your pain, that it will touch you with God's presence and give you peace.