As Hospice of the Valleys celebrates 35 years of serving our community, I realized with gratitude and pride that I have been providing spiritual care here for 15 of those 35 years. Reflecting upon this, Sarah McLaughlan's words rang in my ears. I do remember you...how could I forget? In 15 years a chaplain visits a lot of people. We who do hospice work say that our hospice patients give more to us than we could ever give to them. I cannot forget what I have been given: life-changing and profound moments of intimacy and life lessons of immeasurable worth.
As I remembered, pages of names and memories flooded in. I see the grin of an elder her face covered in blue icing, enjoying her birthday cake. I see the creased and worn leather of a recliner chair in a quiet corner of one man's home, where he opened scrapbooks from "the War", and in a weakened voice, became a living witness to history. I saw the true nature of freedom on a patient's face who looked up in amazement and said, "This is the first time I have been out of pain in 6 years." I will never forget the quiet form of a woman, wrapped in a blank like a child, her long pony tail braided down the pillow. Her only response to months of chaplain visits was a final tear down her cheek, upon hearing the Lord's Prayer.
I have seen the depth of love of 67 years of marriage, exchanged in glances over held hands. I can't forget the comical sight of a large state trooper's hat on the tiny head of a 104 year old woman, as she was honored as the community's eldest citizen by the mayor in her home. And there was no more wide a smile as when a gentleman let the needle drop onto an LP as it played the drum solo in an iconic jazz standard. He quietly proclaimed, "That's me."
Some patients have been my life teachers, stretching my heart and mind with their wisdom. I will never forget the imprint of a woman's hands as she reached up to hold my face, and say "Thank you, you have learned well." I will always hear the wild laughter of another who said, the week before her death, "If anyone ever told me I'd be believing in God! ..., Guess I got it in just in time."
15 years...and how could I Forget? I leave you with a promise which I made, and have kept. A patient recounted how she had previously had a near death experience. It was, by her account, so profoundly beautiful that she did not want to return to this life. But she did, to pass on a message. She entreated me to tell all of my patients and families who might ask, fearful of the unknown, "What comes next?" She said to tell them, "It is beautiful beyond belief, and there is nothing to fear, you will be amazed."