I didn’t choose hospice, it chose me. Okay, not really, God chose it for me. As a person who cries during sentimental commercials, I knew I could never work around dying people. But, two months into my job as a home health social worker, my manager asked me to see a few hospice patients. Death, pain, grief . . . . What crazy person would choose that? No, don't think so.
My manager was persistent because she was short a hospice social worker. Trying to flatter me, she went on about all the reasons I would be great at hospice. All I heard was “yadda, yadda, yadda.”
Saying no was not an option and I found myself sitting at the table of Joshua, an elderly gentleman. I was crying more than he as he recounted the details of his wife’s seven year battle with Alzheimer’s. Francis lay in a hospital bed, immobile, unable to communicate. Her nails were polished, hair curled and she smelled of floral perfume. Lipstick was smeared on her drawn lips.
As Joshua glanced at her from the table, he asked, “Isn’t my bride beautiful? I try to keep up her morning ritual.” He chuckled, “Can’t do it as well as her, of course.” His face softened as he continued to stare at her. “Sixty-eight years, it has all gone so fast . . .”
I listened as Joshua reminisced about the joys and sorrows of a lifetime spent together. He spoke of God’s comfort and grace. He whispered, “Susan, there really is a peace that transcends understanding.” My trembling lip showed my skepticism. He patted my hand in a paternal way as if to reassure me, “God has indeed been faithful.”
He rose and went to the stove to stir the soup. Even with his stooped posture, he still towered over me. His movement was slow and deliberate. Curled arthritic hands gripped the pot as he spooned out a small portion for Francis. He asked me to join them for supper, and though I wanted to escape the intense sadness welling in my throat, I couldn’t say no.
Joshua asked me to help myself, and I did as I watched him place a bib around his bride. He prayed a simple blessing and then patiently coaxed in a small bite. “Come on Francis, open a little for me, please sweetheart, just a few bites . . .”
I wondered how many times this routine had been repeated. She made no effort to turn her head or open her mouth. He sat the spoon down. “Well maybe we’ll try later. You just rest.” He ran the back of his hand down her cheek and kissed her forehead.
I wiped my tears as he returned to the table. “I pray my sweet Francis will be in heaven soon. Oh, but I will miss her smile . . .” Joshua continued recounting their love story as I tried to eat my soup. The lump in my throat made it impossible to swallow. And as the nausea grew, I tried to discreetly push the soup aside.
“Are you okay dear? I’ve rambled on for hours. You must be bored to tears.”
“No, you’ve just had such a beautiful life together and now . . .” my voice cracked. I tried to exhale but the air escaped as a tearful whimper.
Joshua laid his hand over mine. “God never promised it would be easy. He did promise that he would carry us. He does you know, even through this valley of death, I can feel him.” He looked up at the ceiling as if he could see straight through to heaven. “Don’t ever forget, my dear, God carries us through the trial.”
I bit my bottom lip and didn’t answer. Joshua patted my hand and we sat in silence for what seemed like hours. Much later, as I stood to leave, he gave me a warm, tight hug. He pulled back, keeping both hands on my shoulders. He looked in my eyes and said emphatically, "Susan, I will be praying for you." His withered lips curved into a half smile, “Often, I might add.”
Ironic, I thought. I was in my mid-twenties, the prime of my life, going home to a well husband and two healthy children. Why would he feel the need to pray for me?
He patted my back as he escorted me to the door. “You’re going to make it my dear. You just wait and see.”
Then I realized his insight. He saw the fear, the dissipating faith, and as a man who had witnessed incredible tragedy through two wars and suffering the death a child, he knew I was at a crossroad. He had the wisdom to know I needed the prayer more than he.
I’ve thought of Joshua often over the past twenty years. I don’t think it’s any accident that my first hospice family was one of a profound faith. I know he kept his promise to pray, and while I don’t know what he said to his Father, I know his prayers were answered.
Has there been a time when you knew God placed the right person in your life to lift you to the Father? Better yet, have you been that person? I would love to hear your story. You can share it here or feel free to e-mail me.
My prayer today is that each reader will be covered in God’s grace and wrapped in His love with the realization that He does, indeed, carry us through the trial.