As I walked up the rotten steps to the pitiful shack, I was making a list of all the referrals I needed to make to ensure the house was not just livable, but appropriate for a hospice patient to die in. Thankfully, I had several dedicated volunteers with carpentry skills. My mind was busy assigning tasks when the door opened. Mrs. Smith’s arms spread wide, inviting a warm embrace.
My only meeting with Mrs. Smith had been in the hospital. She was adamant to honor her husband’s wish to die at home. Seeing the dilapidated house, I doubted if that was the best decision.We sat on a well-worn couch supported by cement block on one end and covered in a thread-bare quilt.
Mrs. Smith beamed as she took my hands, “I’m just so thankful to have Hank home. He’s so much happier.” She glanced over at her husband who lay unresponsive in a hospital bed. “And look how comfortable he is in his new bed.”
I squeezed her hand and we sat in silence for a few minutes. She gathered her courage and continued, “I know it don’t seem like he knows, but he knows.”
I nodded in confirmation. “He’s blessed to have a wife that loves him so much.”
Tears filled her eyes. Breathing in deeply, she refused to let them spill over. “My Hank is a good man. Never had much, but always had each other. We gots two healthy children’bout grown.” She sighed. “God’s been good.” She smiled sadly as the tears were released and she cried freely while I held her.
As I stood to leave an hour later, I knew Mrs. Smith would be okay. In the midst of her heartbreak, she had that deep, inexplicable peace. The love in her little home was so thick it was almost palpable.
I stopped on the dusty, gravel road to type the address of my next patient into my GPS. Looking at the directions, I realized it was in the most affluent area of the city. What a dichotomy. Cancer does not discriminate between rich and poor.
Turning on the stately, circular drive, I stopped at the wrought iron gate. It opened automatically and the home came into view. Majestic white columns stood like soldiers supporting the mansion of dark red brick.
A housekeeper greeted me at the door and ushered me into the parlor. I could hear voices arguing in the next room. Suddenly, a young woman stormed out the front door. A few minutes later, Mrs. Wilson entered the room and introduced herself. She was cold and aloof while stating she had no need for a social worker. Her husband was well-cared for by a twenty-four hour nurse on the third floor. In a business tone, she informed me I could visit with him if I liked, but she didn’t feel the need to see him anymore since he no longer knew who she was.
Another employee led me upstairs. Mr. Wilson looked like a king sleeping in an elaborate, antique, canopy bed. A nurse sat in the corner reading a magazine. He didn’t respond when I took his hand. But did he know I was there? More importantly, did he know his wife wasn’t?
Driving home that afternoon, I pondered the two extremes. Obviously, the old saying holds true, “You can’t buy happiness.” I thought of the secret to peace that Paul shared over 2000 years ago in a letter penned to the church at Philippi.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . . . I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:7 and 12-13
No matter what we’re facing today, let’s be reminded that genuine joy and deep, unshakable peace is only found in one place. Whether we live in a homeless shelter, a trailer, a penthouse or mansion, our material home is irrelevant as long as we know our real home, our eternal home is in the unchanging, loving arms of our Father.