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small gestures

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gurneyBrian* is one of the drivers who transport bodies of deceased patients from the hospice to funeral homes. We first met a year ago when I asked to accompany him, his partner and the  body down the elevator and along the long basement hallway to the van. His response at the time, as best as I remember, was unenthusiastic. “I’ve done this for 17 years,” he told me wearily, “if I were to pay attention to each body as a person I’d be exhausted, I’d long have given up this work.” My offer to him — and to other drivers — was that we were giving the bodies into his care so as to continue a seemless flow all the way to the funeral home. In fact, these were more than bodies: they were our patients and they were the remains of human beings: each with a life story, each with friends and family who’d be meeting them once more at the funeral home or memorial service.

From that day onward, Brian made it a habit to ask for me each time he came for a pickup. He’d introduce me to his helpers and we’d began to exchange greetings. We also invited hospice volunteers to come along snd on occasion family members squeezed into the elevator as well. Together, we’d process in silence, with an occasional mention of who we were transporting (never by name, although Brian had them on the clipboard). If the elevator doors opened at a floor ahead of the basement, I’d stand guard to block the view, asking people to please take the next car.

morgue vanI’m telling you all this because of an incident three days ago as we were taking the body of the patient I’ve mentioned before, the one whose death had moved me to tears. As we left the buidling via the basement and rolled towards the van, I mentioned to Brian how I’d grown to love this person. Without hesitating, he asked, “do you want to lift her into the van?” He showed me how it’s done — the way ambulance drivers collapse the gurney legs as the thing slides into the van. I’m sure we broke a rule or two as I did this … but I was touched by this act of kindness. Tears once more as the car rolled away and I stood alone.

*not his real name


2 responses »

  1. I can close my eyes and I feel the love eminating that you have for the dearly loved One. I too was feeling very sad about this loved one’s passing. Having had the opportunity to walk down that long corridor with my grandmother it seems so long ago now, I know how much it truly was a priveldge. As a volunteer, I am so grateful for having another opportunity to walk down that corrider again with a dearly loved One. Peter, thank you for your words today and always. They are a great comfort.


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