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Hospice Archives: Two Patients / One Day

"All in a day's work" is how I ended my day by reflecting on a most unusual day as a chaplain. Early in my career, I was encouraged not to make plans for how I thought my day would unfold because the chances of that happening were slim to none. This was the case for this day.

I was sitting in a meeting with the different disciplines of our staff, discussing our patients and who would be best suited to attend to their daily needs—the night before a patient was taken to the hospital for a brief stay. She was back home the following morning, distraught about the means she was taken to the hospital. The team encouraged me to go and give her comfort and listen.

This was my first visit with this particular patient. I had limited information other than that she was extremely wealthy and her family was well-known along the east coast. Her butler greeted me at the door and asked me to wait in the foyer for approval to meet with the patient. As I waited, I observed the icons throughout the house with the antiquities displayed and finely kept. When I was escorted into the patient's room to the seat distantly placed away from the patient's bedside. When seated, the patient began to explain without an introduction her overwhelming disgust that her children wouldn't take her to the hospital the night before and the fact she had to pay her chauffeur to come in and take her to the hospital to tend to her breathing issues.

She had no one in the home other than hired hands to take care of her needs, and they weren't privileged to share any details of the patient or family with me. I listened to her lament for at least an hour. As I listened, I wasn't sure if she was upset about spending money to go to the hospital or if her children didn't care enough to take her that evening. It may have been both, but it was hard to tell - she never clarified when I inquired. After about two hours, we said the "Our Father," which ended our visit abruptly.

A few hours later, I was called to a rural area of our territory. Triage notified me that the patient was declining and wanted to speak to a chaplain. I made my way out there, following the directions on a dirt road for miles. I arrived at a 1973 rundown mobile home. Several broken-down cars were surrounding the house. There was little grass near the home and a scattering of bikes, a wagon, and a few dogs. The house was well lived in. I was greeted at the door and immediately invited to see the patient. I walked around the corner to find a bed in the middle of the room. Around the walls were lined chairs seated with family members and the patient. There were at least twenty people in the room, and they were attentive to the patient's needs and respectfully quiet due to the circumstances. The patient asked a grandson to pull up his chair alongside the bed for me to sit in. I sat beside the patient, surrounded by the family, for a visit.

The patient had worked in the coal mines since he was fourteen. He had nine children, twenty-eight grandchildren, and nine or ten great-grandchildren. He reviewed his life, relationships, and faith with me. The family was warm and caring with each other and me; they were all engaged. It was a beautiful visit. It was full of faith, laughter, tears, and silence, all reflecting not just on the family but also on the patriarch, who was kind, meek, and humble.

The striking difference between these two visits and my limited knowledge of each patient's life left me speculating about their stories. I never made another visit after they gave me their presence that day because they both soon passed. Both patients were gifts to me that touched me differently. They both possessed a noticeable faith. One was more displayed throughout her home, and the other was experienced in his story and family. Family surrounded one while the other was noticeably alone without any family members present. One possessed much material wealth, and the other possessed relational wealth. One was angry, and the other was grateful.

Hospice has a saying that people die the way they lived. This day, they pointed this out to me. Neither scenario is categorized as good or bad; they just were who they were in the life given to them.

The way I live my life today will impact how my last day will be. It's up to me to choose whether I want to display faith or have a more tangible faith, whether I wish to focus on building relationships or being alone, and whether I want to live a fully lived or polished life. Each choice has its merits and is each to make and live.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears briefly and then vanishes. (James 4)

Today is a day of consideration. We get to make choices for our lives today while we can change. What are the things in my life that I no longer want to be defined by or a part of? What are the things that I want to be determined by? By us not deciding, we have decided, and we live according to what comes our way. If we ever reach a point where we feel the need to change but cannot make changes, we will be faced with a dilemma.

It's possible that you may not be experiencing the situation described in this blog at the moment. However, if you need to reevaluate certain parts of your life, know I am here to support you. I offer a safe and confidential space for you to talk, process, or reflect on your life with someone. My presence is available whenever you need it.



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Apr 01
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Just finished reading blog post! Really enjoyed the insights shared. Definitely worth a read!

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