Curious to see what brought me to where I am today, this two-year old post — written within days of starting a new job in hospice spiritual care — points to the many wonderful things I learned while serving the dying and their loved-ones. Deep bows to all who taught me.
Went to room 724 yesterday and found Bert* in bed, facing the ceiling. A man in his eighties, eyes half-shut, skin clinging to jaw and skull, mouth open with lower teeth missing, breathing irregularly. Except for chest and head, his body is barely noticeable below the blanket, little more than a shadow.
His wife Sybil* stands in the middle of the room, looking lost, distraught. We connect quickly as she tells me of their life together, the worsening of his condition, bringing Bert to hospice “because I can not longer lift him;” thirty years caring for a disabled child; being at wit’s end. “I hope he’ll die soon, this is not quality of life,” and a little later “maybe I have another ten years to live; I’d like to go on a cruise before I die.”
As I listen, she weeps; we both do. Tiny tissue papers all bunched up, too small to absorb these tears. Sybil speaks of guilt: how could I wish him to die … but … it would be best for him. Am I being selfish? she wonders. Taking care of yourself is healthy and right, I offer.
We move to Bert’s bed, I touch his feet through the covers. “God willing, he won’t suffer much longer,” Sybil whispers. Instinctively, I take the cue and offer a prayer: “Dear God, have mercy on Bert, make his pain go away and call him home. Please bless Sybil and give her strength as she cares for him.” To which she adds, “and Peter as well.” Not used to praying, I listen as these words exit my lips, tokens of comfort and reassurance. We remain standing a while longer, looking at her dying husband. “I feel a little better now, thank you!” says Sybil, “rich or poor, old or young, we’re all together.”
Leaving the room my feet barely touch the ground, my heart overflows with joy. Turning down the hall way, the first person I meet receives my embrace. No boundaries.
* names are fictitious