Could you not watch with me one hour?

“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26.36-41)

Just past 10pm on Friday night my step-father passed away. He had suffered from motor neurones disease for nearly 5 years and so although I had been grieving for his passing for some time the immediate shockwave of grief surprised me. After we began to slowly compose ourselves we started to phone family and friends to inform them of his passing.

During the same time we waited for the doctor to arrive to formally pronounce his passing. We talked and waited, talked and waited. Although the doctor was supposed to arrive within 3 hours of his death I was still sitting next to his bed at 1.30pm. The few days previous had been emotionally and physically draining in ways I do not feel ready to describe and I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open as I sat there with the nurse.

I was surprised at the extent of my own exhaustion. Regardless of how I tried to sit I could feel the heaviness in my eyes and yet I did not want to leave my step-father alone. He deserved to have a family member with him now. As I sat there struggling to stay awake this passage from Matthew came to mind. Surely I could watch with him one more hour? But the more I tried to stay awake the more unable I seemed to demonstrate my faithfulness to him. Even though I was not his son, he had loved me as a father, and yet I could not watch with him for one hour. He had provided the kind of fidelity on which our family had transitioned from dysfunctional to flourishing, but I could not watch with him one hour.

When Jesus returned to his disciples after praying in the garden of Gethsemane he found the disciples sleeping. It has always been too easy to engage in some self-congratulation as I read Jesus’ question to Peter: ‘What, could ye not watch with me one hour?’ In this question I saw the disciples failure to recognise Jesus as Lord, to fully appreciate his mission. But I now know what it is to love someone deeply and still feel unable to watch with them. As I have reflected on this passage since, I have found hope in Jesus’ disappointment in, his sad recognition of, the weakness of the flesh. Here Jesus demonstrates the need to forgive those who hurt us through the weakness of the flesh. To hurt them through our inability to see others and their needs clearly. To fail them through our inability to give more of our time and energy when we have nothing else to give. Jesus moves from disappointment to understand and in tandem transitions from hurt to forgiveness.

Of course, this is a particularly self-serving reading of this passage, but that is what I need right now. I need to hope that my step-father knows that my spirit was indeed willing to watch with him but I also want to feel that he can forgive the weakness of my flesh.

Comments

  1. Oh Aaron, my friend. He forgives you and loves you, now more than ever.

  2. melissa says:

    As a parent myself, I can say with certainty that he forgives you. During the deathbed vigil for my father, I missed his last moments because I went out to check on the children, who were playing outside. Five and s half years later, typing this brings me to tears. But I know he forgives me, in fact I know he would say “There’s nothing to forgive.” I am so sorry for your grief.

  3. Molly Bennion says:

    Aaron, I’m so sorry for your huge loss. I’m in awe knowing that, though grieving, you did so much wonderful work for others this weekend. And isn’t “self-serving” one of the ways we’re supposed to read the scriptures? Finally, one of the impressions people with near death experiences most often report is that it is suddenly easy to forgive others. Your step-father isn’t giving this a thought.

  4. melodynew says:

    This is a beautiful story and quite honestly the first time I have felt so connected to the experience of the disciples waiting at Gethsemane. You made it real. Thank you for that.

    As a nurse, I’ve waited with several patients in the hours before their deaths and I’m convinced it’s a process much like birth – where there is a pause, a push, and release – over days or hours before the soul is delivered into the next realm. No doubt within those pauses and pushes, your souls connected. And even still do. God bless you and your step-dad during your respective transitions. Thanks again for sharing this beautiful story.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    It is hard to write what I feel. This is beautiful, terrible, and holy. God bless you, Aaron.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Aaron, you have written with the Spirit and I thank you for this.

  7. Thank you Aaron — this is a meaningful and helpful reflection on that scriptural passage. I mourn with you, my friend, as I knew him too.

  8. liz johnson says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you, and I’m so sorry about the passing of your step-father.

  9. Thank you all for your kind and hopeful comments.

  10. Beautiful Aaron. In all your ways he knew you loved him and have never let him down. You are your stepfather’s son.

  11. Scott B. says:

    Thank you Aaron.

  12. Thank you, Aaron. I share in your feeling as I recall my own father’s death vigil. I was only absent a few minutes.

  13. Thank you, Aaron.

    My wife and I both last our fathers in the past nine months, and this reminded me, especially, of how hard it was for my wife to leave the hospital in Utah, after days watching him slip away, to drive back to Nevada in order to get back to her job, knowing her dad surely would die shortly after we left. She has endured some hard things, but that experience tore her apart inside like nothing I’d seen in the more than 30 years I had known her.

    “This is beautiful, terrible, and holy.”

    Amen – and amen.

  14. This is a beautifully inspiring interpretation of that story but I am so sorry you had to lose someone you love in order to see it. God bless you in your grief. Thank you for sharing your story.

  15. Jjohnson says:

    Thank you, Aaron.

  16. Condolence s for your loss.
    My father and I were not close, and he was abusive to me, and sometimes mean to my kids. I was the only child treated this way. Baffling. Anyway, when he was in the hospital I was the only one to visit him, with my kids.
    After he passed I was the one who made all the calls. I was the one who stayed with him until after he arrived at the funeral home. Go figure, the ones he treated well were not there for him. The one time he was nice to me was when my daughter passed away. Sorry to be a downer.

    Your step father now knows your heart and he knows what you did, and without a doubt he forgives you.

  17. This is beautiful. Thank you for helping me to understand that passage of scripture in a new way. Reading your experience hit me very hard. I remember how scared and exhausted I was sitting by my father’s bedside in his last few hours, and how desperately I wanted to go to sleep rather than watch him struggle. It has been hard for me to think about that night, and somehow your post is helping me connect my experience to something sacred and spiritual.

  18. This is so raw and true, Aaron. I’m sorry for your loss, and I thank you for being vulnerable to share this important reflection with us.

  19. Peter LLC says:

    I hear you. My mother spent her last six months in various hospitals far from home. Although we did what we could to be by her side, she died by herself a few hours after the last family members went home for the night, exhausted from weeks of around-the-clock vigils. I hope she was just waiting for a moment of peace to finish the unpleasant business at hand and that she didn’t feel forsaken.

  20. Thanks for this. Someone’s else’s story is a part of another’s person’s healing. I wasn’t there when my mother died. I didn’t even know she was on her deathbed because another family member deliberately chose not to tell me. This story helps me to forgive that family member. I felt betrayed by that person’s choice on top of feeling my mother was betrayed by my absence.

    The thing that kinda gets me through it is a sense that, on the other side, there is more understanding. Like in the play Our Town. They wish for us to let go and find happiness. To breathe and remember that the spirit world of their existence is actually right here.

  21. I’ve done Hospice with both my parents. Hospice workers had told me that I might miss the actual “passing” because often they only depart when the loved one leaves the room–and that is exactly what happened,. Mom was in my home and I was there every minute and had to leave the room to check on my husband and when I went back a few minutes later she had left–just like that. I knew it would be that night( so I was very watchful and still missed it) because a few hours earlier she indicated she saw her mother.

  22. Thank you for this post. My wife and I thought of this scripture as well when we simply could not pull another all-nighter waiting for our infant daughter to pass away. Indeed, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

  23. Beautiful.

  24. Thank you again for your kind comments and for those who have shared their experiences.

  25. Aaron, what a moving essay. Your faithfulness is more than an hour’s watch. It is the love and care you show his daughter and grandchildren. It is the life you live in remembrance of him. Thank you for softening my heart today.

  26. Aaron, this was a wonderful post. There is nothing to forgive on your part. God made us in such a way that our bodies force sleep whether we agree or not. I’m sure your stepfather had no expectation that you had to stay awake for hours after he was gone.

    My grandmother lived in a nursing home a few minutes from my house for the last decade of her life, after a severe stroke. She died in her sleep and my mom — who visited her every day — felt guilty for years about not being there. Finally, when I was a teenager, I asked her, “Mom, if I’m not there when you die, will you be mad at me?”

    She said, “Of course not. We never know when someone will die.”

    I said, “OK, I guess grandma’s not mad either.”

    That conversation made it easier for me when my mom died, only a couple of hours after I had left her side.

    My father, who had lived with us for over three years, died last month. I was by his side when he passed, as were both my siblings. Fortunately for us, he made a very textbook departure, so it was pretty easy to tell what was going on. It was a very spiritual moment but, like you, I was unprepared. HE had been ready for years and missed my mother who died 11 years ago.

    The hospice nurse was at our home within 15 minutes and the mortician arrived within 20. I think had I been waiting around for three hours AFTER the cathartic moment, I would have been long gone before you were.

    You are a wonderful, loving son. I hope you are comforted in your great loss.

  27. BHodges says:

    I feel what you feel, Aaron R. Thank you for putting it into words.

    I have found hope in Jesus’ disappointment in, his sad recognition of, the weakness of the flesh. Here Jesus demonstrates the need to forgive those who hurt us through the weakness of the flesh. To hurt them through our inability to see others and their needs clearly. To fail them through our inability to give more of our time and energy when we have nothing else to give. Jesus moves from disappointment to understand and in tandem transitions from hurt to forgiveness.

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