One of the most difficult duties that fall upon the shoulders of my wife Terri, who works as a PA in the Tinian Hospital, is to talk to families about the death of a loved one. On her first day of work Terri had to go out into the hallway and tell the family of a 13 year old that their son had died. This death was totally unexpected and a shock to the family and the community. Last weekend she had to sit down with Mariano's wife and tell her that her beloved husband would soon die.
This was not an unexpected death. Mariano had been ill for some time, and the family had been bracing for this day. But I'm not sure anyone is truly ready for that day to actually arrive. The hospital staff did their best to make Mariano comfortable, and then they waited. Sometime early in the morning Terri was called back into the hospital, as Mariano would soon pass away. Not long after she arrived, she witnessed a sight that will never be forgotten: a loving family surrounding the bed of their father, watching as he passed to the other side of the veil.
It reminded me of the death of my own mother. Not unlike Mariano, we all knew my mother would soon die. Not long after I flew home, and early in the morning, the family gathered around my mother's beside, and watched her take her last breath of life. It was a good death. When one considers all of the ways that people can and do die in this world of grief, to die with your loved ones gathered around you has to be a blessing. After a long period of pain, my mother's trials were over. I will never forget the sight of my father kneeling beside the bed of my mother, holding her hand in his, as my mother's life ebbed away.
As I talked to a few of the family members of Mariano, they related a unique Chamorro tradition and belief: that every death comes in twos. The dead want a companion to walk with them into the next life, so they wait for another soul to die, so they can take that walk together. Death comes in twos...meaning that someone else must die soon to go with Mariano! They even thought they might know who would take that long walk with Mariano...
Many people go into medicine. For most, it is just a job. They become so involved in their specialty, or have so many patients, they find it difficult to become close to their patients. Some even prefer not to become too close to their patients. We all know that a doctor's bedside manner is not always what it should be--many are very cold and aloof, by choice. One of the blessings of living on Tinian is the opportunity we have to get to know the local Chamorro people. Although we are Haolis (think gringos), we can only hope that we can have a positive effect upon the lives we come into contact with here. I know Terri has become a bright light to many already. When a person is a truly loving and caring individual, it isn't something one can hide. People can feel compassion, and they innately understand when someone is genuine. The people on Tinian see those qualities in Terri, and are drawn to it...as she is drawn to them.
Even at the end of our most difficult days, as we bow our heads to say our prayers, we thank God that we are living on Tinian. We have received our reward. Now we hope we can return the favor by trying to bless the lives of those around us.