Crowded Room

Luke 20:27-38  – The 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time – November 10, 2013

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question…” (Luke 20:27)

I first wrote these sentences in 2010, when I volunteered at the hospice I now work for . . .

sunset_through_kitchen_windowA crucifix adorns the wall.

A large dog shambles into the room. He limps by and takes a token sniff of me, then settles near the window. He’s found a slice of sunshine. In the next hour, the German shepherd mix will shift positions, but it’s difficult. A car accident ruined his hind legs years ago. Smaller dogs—I never know what kind or how many—stay quiet. A barrier set across the door keeps them in the back of the house.

The phone rings once or twice. I don’t answer it.

I sit on a couch. I read a novel. There are “get well” and “thinking of you” cards on a side table. The room smells vaguely sour, slightly stale. It can be like that when someone’s dying.

Across from me, in a rented hospital bed, the woman who owns this house, and who loves the dogs I don’t see and loves the dog I can see, dozes. Medication keeps her pain in check; it also means she spends much of the day asleep. She has cancer. Her sister, her caregiver, had a to-do list of errands and called the hospice for a volunteer to be present in case anything happened while she was gone.

I am the hospice volunteer.

Nothing happens. And yet, in the somber, sour room, there’s an undercurrent of peace, of the simplicity of compassion. I look again at the crucifix. A picture of the Pope is thumbtacked beside it. I can’t be sure from my position on the couch, but it might be the current pontiff. However, I’ve visited homes in the 21st century where a crucifix joins the very 20th century Pope John XXIII on the wall, remembered for all the changes he encouraged during his 1958-1963 papacy. I’ve seen President Kennedy beside a Pope’s photo . . . and Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa. Once, I recall Joe DiMaggio.crucifix-2-flash

I’ve been told the dying woman is a devoted Roman Catholic. But while I sit in her home, I ponder the small “c” of the word catholic, which means universal. Catholic as in the whole world around us, where we humans do such wondrous and wicked things. Continue reading →

A Vote For An Angel

People are not taught how to deal with the death of a baby. Friends and family often don’t know what to say. Most people expect the parents, especially the father, to return to work within a few days and be ‘back to normal’ within a matter of months, but the death of a baby changes parents forever . . .

_7903271As I finished a call and cradled the phone, an unfamiliar woman entered and then quickly exited my co-worker Lori’s office. The woman had been carrying a rectangular object. I knew Lori* had left for hospital visit and wouldn’t return for several hours. What had been delivered in her absence? Curious, I eased across the hallway and stopped at the door’s threshold to peer inside.

I gulped. Now I knew what had been brought for my colleague:  a coffin the size of two back-to-back shoeboxes, its exterior elegantly wrapped with soft, padded fabric.

For the last few years, I’ve worked part-time at Hinds Hospice as a so-called Bereavement Support Specialist. Trust me, I’m not much of a specialist in anything, but my employers had to concoct a title for my duties. The part of Hinds where I’m employed is The Center for Grief and Healing and Angel Babies. The diminutive coffin had been brought to Lori’s office by the person who had built it because of the final two words in The Center’s name . . . Angel Babies.

My bereavement work is exclusively with adults. I make follow-up calls to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. When a sister or grandparent or father or aunt has died under Hinds Hospice’s care, we make sure those who are grieving know they’re not alone. Not only do we call folks, but we also send monthly letters and sponsor various workshops and conferences throughout the year. Additionally, I lead grief support groups and do a variety of “this” and “that” for The Center.

But I don’t work with the ones who’ll use the handmade coffin waiting in my colleague’s office; I don’t deal with the parents who have, or will soon, experience their baby’s final breaths. I like to think my work with adults struggling with loss allows my colleagues to have more time to care for parents grieving the death of a precious infant. Continue reading →