Thank you for sharing your experience working with this hospice patient. What you said of your final conversations with the woman reminded me of something C. S. Lewis wrote shortly after the death of his great friend Charles Williams. It was not that his friend had been changed by death, Lewis said; it was death that had been changed by its encounter with his friend. “Trampling down death by death,” we sing in the Paschal Troparion. We sing these words, of course, in celebration of the victory of the risen Lord, and yet they apply just as much, through Him, to those who have been “baptized into Christ and have put on Christ”. They too trample death. “Though we die,” wrote Saint Athanasius, “we no longer die death as before.”
Is this not perhaps the Orthodox “context” for the experience you are looking for—the context in which we can understand how, and why, this woman’s blessed repose made it possible for you to somehow “physically” take something from it? It is metaphysically evident that we are all “one flesh”, and I would think—given the heart-wrenching and yet ennobling and transforming ministry you are now engaged in—that this becomes concretely more and more clear to you every day. It should therefore be no surprise that what one person experiences at so pivotal a moment as death cannot but have reverberations for the rest of us, especially those with whom the person has shared certain intimate moments.
I think this must be what you had in mind in talking about the “ground of common suffering”. But let’s add immediately that there’s also a “ground of common joy”.