A Hospice Patient’s Hand-Me-Down Gifts

We can never experience what another touched, heard, smelled, tasted, or saw.

For example, I’ve been with friends that ordered a favorite dish at a restaurant and asked me to give it a try. Just a bite!

“Delicious, right?” my table companion gushed.

Not really, I concluded after a nibble. If I’m polite, I’ll mumble thanks for the, for me, underwhelming cuisine. My taste buds are different than yours; yours different than mine. It’s the same with all of our senses and sensibilities. Variety, don’t they say, is the spice of life?

Or can we experience another’s perspective? Even in hospice?

One of our hospice chaplains shared about a patient she was visiting. The patient had explained to the chaplain that he put on his reading glasses first thing in the morning to read the Bible. He’d done this when life was normal, when his days seemed to happily blend together and stretch out forever. And he continued his daily readings even as his days were numbered because of illness. “How I love God’s word,” the patient had exclaimed. “Every single day, when I explore the scripture, I find a new thought or idea, something I can learn about.”

The chaplain, so she said, smiled. And then she—the professional religious “authority,” the paid spiritual guide and support for patients of all faith traditions—honestly replied, “I wish I could be like you. I wish I had your enthusiasm for reading scripture.”

The patient nodded, and then quietly added, “I’ll keep you in my prayers. I’ll pray for your reading and enjoying the scripture.”

“Thank you.”

The chaplain meant it. Our hospice staff visits patients to help them, whether with a bath, medication, or spirituality. But most of the time, all hospice staff will admit they learn far more about what really matters from their patients than they ever provide to the one who is ill.

Not long after the visit and conversation, this calm, thoughtful patient died. The chaplain arrived, there to support the family. Since the patient had been a resident in a skilled nursing facility, the hospice chaplain also provided support for the staff that had cared for him. Everyone spoke highly of him. Everyone, staff and family, talked about his kindness towards others, his quiet faith and contagious optimism.

Several of the patient’s family lingered in his nearly empty room, collecting his few belongings. As they were preparing to leave, the chaplain noticed an item remained on the table by the patient’s bed: his reading glasses. They were just inexpensive eyewear, the kind purchased for a few bucks at a pharmacy.

“Would it be okay if I had his glasses?” the chaplain asked.

The family immediately gave permission. Of what use were they now? The chaplain scooped them up and briefly tried them on. Surprisingly, they were a good fit and the frame was highlighted with a favorite color. And, if only symbolically, the glasses seemed an answer to a patient’s prayer.

As the chaplain finished her story, she told us that from now on, when she studied her Bible and prayed about the words on the page or the people in her life, she planned to keep his glasses nearby. To sometimes use them. And to also remember one of her patients.

She’d try to see through his kind and enthusiastic eyes as she greeted each day with all of its uncertainty and struggles, but also its wondrous possibilities.

What was one of your hand-me-down gifts . . . today?

Who did you learn from . . . today?

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

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