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Penetrating Lostness: A ministry to the dying and the living
By Claudean Boatman
WINDSOR -- Death isn't for everyone. Oh, we all know we're going to die, and we all have to make decisions related to what will happen after we die -- spiritually and physically. There are peopole, however, who are called to minister where few are comfortable: the hospice room.
Tina Samples is one of these people. Tina, worship leader at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Windsor, is a trained music therapist and a Christian woman intent on gently sharing the intimacy she has with Christ. Tina's work with cancer patients nearing the end of their lives, allows her to use her skills and gifts in a variety of ways to improve the quality of life for some, and help others complete life's journey with dignity. Experience after experience confirms her call to minister to the dying.
Gaining strength from songwriting
Jeanette (not her real name) was an esophageal cancer patient. When Tina met her, Jeanette was preparing to finish her life. The two spent hours together recounting Jeanette's life story and writing a song -- a message to her family -- to be sung at her funeral. Tina wrote the music and helped when the words to express Jeanette's feelings wouldn't come.
"I'm going home," Jeanette told Tina one day as they neared the completion of the song.
Assuming she was referring to heaven, Tina said, "I know you're going home."
"No, I'm going home," Jeanette insisted. Jeanette did go home to her family. Through the process of talking about her family and what she wanted to say to them, Jeanette gained strength. She lived two years more. At her funeral Tina sang the song Jeanette had written for her children and grandchildren.
God's gift of a sunset
One day, a nurse asked Tina to visit a woman in a coma. "She's been comatose for a week. No one has been to see her," the nurse told Tina.
"I walked into this room," Tina said, "and nobody was with her in this time. It saddened my heart greatly. I opened the curtains... I remember pulling out my keyboard and setting it on a tray. I looked out the window, and there was the most beautiful sunset... you could see the steeple from the church nearby. It was just a glorious view. And I remember saying, 'God, I can't believe she is about to take her last breath and she can't even see what is right before her -- this glorious view.'"
"I started to play... I am not kidding you when I say that a presence came into the room that I cannot explain. A presence filled that entire room.
"I'm playing, looking at the beautiful sunset with the steeple silhouetted in the background and this lonely little woman is about to take her last breath all by herslef. Suddenly, I look over there, and her eyes are open. She hadn't opened her eyes in a week. She opened her eyes! With as much strength as she could muster, she tried to smile.
"God let her see that she didn't have to die alone, that someone was singing over her, that the Lord did care for her and painted a beautiful picture outside her window," Tina said. The woman died a few minutes after Tina finished playing.
Not every visit Tina makes is to the lonely. She has also walked into hospice rooms in which there were 15 or 20 family members and friends singing hymns and worshipping with a patient. It's a wonder to behold when people who know the Lord spend their last days praising the Lord, she said.
A peace passing understanding
Not every visit she makes is to a calm hospice room, either. A nurse saw Tina enter the hospital and ushered her to a patient's room. The man was in respiratory arrest, and the nurse hoped Tina would be able to stabilize his breathing. To do this, music therapists first match the beat of the music to the heart rate. Next, the musician lowers the beats. Often, the heart rate follows.
"It was real dramatic in the room. You could feel that whole tense moment of him in respiratory arrest and it wasn't looking good at all... (His wife was) crying. Her husband is really geaving, trying to get a breath in. His body is shaking because of the respiratory arrest."
Tina finished one verse of "Amazing Grace" when the ife looked over the bed at Tina. With an intensity that couldn't be denied, the wife blurted, "Sing 'Jesus Loves Me.'"
"It was the most precious moment," Tina said. "I looked over at the patient. In his anxiety, suffering and struggling to get a breath, in the middle of all of that he could still sing with a word here or there, 'Yes, Jesus loves me.' And tears came flowing down his face. It was amazing because at that moment, he knew he was facing death and could say, 'Jesus loves me. This I know.' He passed away being sure and assured of his relationship with God."
While ministry to the dying may not be every Christian's calling, there is no doubt of the blessings to people who are God's hands -- and God's song -- at the end of life.