On my recent retreat, we prayed with Luke 24:13-35, the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus. Jesus joins them, but they do not recognize him. As they near their destination, they say to Jesus, “Stay with us.”
As I prayed with this Gospel passage, those words jumped off the page, Stay with us. I repeated the phrase again and again—Stay with us—and pondered how I invite Jesus to stay with me.
And then, as often happens in prayer, different words came to mind. Stay with us became Don’t go. The message is similar, but the words seem more insistent. Don’t go.
My friend Ted was on hospice at his sister’s home in Portland when I last visited him in January; he was nearing the end of his life. We shared memories of our thirty plus years of friendship, prayed together and planned his funeral Mass. It was a lovely visit.
On the day I was to leave Oregon, the day I was to say good-bye to this dear friend, he said to me, “Go, catch your plane, and I’ll see you in heaven.”
Go. The word touched something deep within me, and I began to cry. Ted’s sisters were in the kitchen, and I ran to them and shared Ted’s directive. “He told me to go,” I sobbed.
Don’t go is what I wish I could have said to Ted. Don’t leave me. Stay with me. But it was not to be. I did leave that day, and a week later, Ted died.
Then I thought about my friend Jim’s last days. Two days before he died, he also told me to go. “Go, be with your sisters,” he had said.
My sisters had driven in from Michigan the previous day; it was the first time I had seen them since Jim got sick nine months earlier. Jim’s directive for me to go and be with them was a shift. During his illness, he always wanted me to stay with him. Don’t go were the words I had become accustomed to hearing. Stay with me.
Another memory stirred—from the last days of my father’s life fourteen years ago. The hospice nurse had called me and said my dad was “ready to go,” but that my mom was holding on. “You have to come home and help your mother let him go,” she had said to me. I bought a plane ticket and flew home the next day.
My mother disagreed with the nurse’s assessment; she felt she had let go. But while her words were telling him it was okay to go, her whole being was saying don’t go. When she was finally able to let him go, he died within an hour.
These days of retreat helped me look at holding on and letting go, of staying and going. I came away with a profound sense of gratitude for all that has been and a renewed hope for what is still possible.