Once I was a hospice chaplain . . .
In the kitchen, after a visit with a new patient, I said good-bye to the caregiver, the patient’s daughter.
I told her about my visit, mentioned her mother and I had discovered that years before we’d lived in the same town. We’d happily swapped stories about familiar people and places. It seemed a pleasant, about-to-leave chit-chat.
Then she said, “I feel so lucky being able to take care of my mother.”
Based on what the nurse and social worker had already told me, I was confident the daughter knew what her next days and weeks would be like. Her mother would need constant attention and care. There would be long nights, fitful sleep (for daughter and mother) and much, much more. And yet, with all the overwhelming commitment her mother would need, there was that gracious phrase, “I feel so . . .”
Lucky. Which is to say, blessed. Which is to say, fortunate.
Choose whatever truthful word you wish, but her phrase seemed to invite joyous bells ringing and celestial lights casting away shadows. Silly me. There was only the rumble of distant, occasional traffic. And the kitchen’s light—from an overhead fixture to the sunshine filtering through windows—remained the same before and after her statement. Or did it?
Of the many insights hospice has given me, some of the most significant are recognizing the parallels between birth and death, between growing-up and dying. A hospice patient becomes extraordinarily dependent upon his or her caregiver. The parent and child relationship flip-flops as the child tends to the parent’s needs.
My times with patients and their families remind me of my parents and my growing up. Those remembered moments are precious . . .
My mother kneeling beside me while I planted bulbs for a Cub Scout project, her hands flecked with dirt, working near mine. My father tossing a ball in the air and, with a controlled swing of the bat, smacking a hit toward me so I could run it down. Standing in their midnight dark bedroom, blubbering about a scary dream or monsters under the bed and hearing words of comfort from them. As I was lovingly escorted back to my room, I don’t recall worrying about how I ruined their sleep.
Mom and Dad changed my endless diapers, cleaned-up my vomit, clapped loudest at my school plays and displayed my elementary-aged artwork on their walls long after I’d left home. I was lucky, blessed, fortunate. I know some children have parents that weren’t there, or never cared. For some, memories are awful or absent.
Part of hospice’s fragile gift to everyone—from patient through caregiver to medical staff—is that the time of living with dying invites all into a vivid present. Regardless of what your childhood was like, what will you do now? What decisions will you make to create life or death? In Deuteronomy 30:19, God declared, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
Lucky. Blessed. Fortunate. Now that I think back, bells did ring in that caregiver’s kitchen. New light shined. It’s like that when true love is glimpsed, when now is where we live.
(Like all medical fields, hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with what I share. Names will be changed and events combined and/or summarized.)by