“In all honesty, I have to say she was sent to me by the Holy Spirit.”
My friend, Bob, was talking to me about the incredible care he’s receiving in hospice, and specifically the care he’s receiving from his CNA, Paulette. Paulette came here from Jamaica 33 years ago, raised five children, and worked hard to buy a two-family home with her daughter. She’s been a certified nursing assistant for twenty-two years. Bob says he’s continually amazed by her thoroughness, her kindness, and her professionalism. “She should be given a promotion and put in charge of training all CNAs,” he says, but he’s grateful she’s working with him in his time of need because of the high level of care, but also, because of her joy.
Bob has been trying to understand the source of the joy of the hospice workers he’s been interacting with since he moved to this phase of the progression of his illness. Hospice care is a demanding and draining job in every way: physically, mentally, and emotionally. The pay is notoriously low. They see death and grieving up close on a daily basis. Yet in spite of the herculean effort and long, hard days, Bob sees joy in the faces of the hospice workers who come to visit him at the home of his son and daughter-in-law.
“I think there’s a link between hospice workers and people who work in obstetrics,” Bob said. They’re both making a way for new life to be born, in this world and the next. Bob said, “As soon as I realized this connection, I thought: this is something for Kerry to write about.” He knew there’s no saying no to an assignment like that.
But what Bob didn’t know is that I had already been taking notes on that call, about Paulette, of course, and the details of her story, but more so about my friend. Bob has lived a beautiful and humble life. He loves God, his beloved late wife Theresa, his sons and their wives, his grandchildren, his alma mater, Providence College, and his many lifelong friends. Bob loves his church community and he’s been praying for each one of the kids in our little chapel since they were babies. He checks in with them as young adults, (especially his fellow PC Friars of which there are now at least five that I can count!), and he roots for them. He extends himself in friendship to everyone in our chapel community and he presents the face of Jesus to each one. I’ve been a music minister in our chapel for almost twenty years, and I can’t remember a mass in which he didn’t take the time to encourage my ministry. Bob is humble, kind, faithful, and good. He makes space for people. He walks them through doors and welcomes them in. He is hospitable. He is a hospice worker.
The word hospice has come to be associated with the end of life, but in truth the root of the word comes from the latin hospitium, or more specifically hospes, the tie or bond between a host and a guest. As Bob and I chatted on that call, I found myself smiling at his inquiry. In order to explain the joy of the hospice workers around him, Bob would need to understand and see the joy he’s brought to others in his own life as he’s humbly welcomed people to church, to friendship, and to relationship with God. What he sees in Paulette is what we’ve seen in Bob all along.
The source of our joy, even when life is hard, is authentic relationship with a living God, and you can tell when someone has it. There’s a light, an authenticity, a generosity of spirit, a peace, and an acceptance. It’s the “fruit” by which we know a person of God that Jesus speaks of in Matthew, chapter seven. Bob’s authentic Christian life makes me want to make my own life more fruitful and joyful. I want people to see Jesus in me the way I see Jesus in Bob, and the way Bob sees Him in Paulette. I know I’m not the only one who has been influenced by Bob in this way. The extent of his hospitality is wide.
In the beautiful circle of life, there is welcome, transition, and holiness. Hopefully, we’re always extending a hand to help bring someone through a door. Bob extended a hand to people at the chapel, and Paulette is extending her hand to help Bob through his next transition. We’re seeing things die and we’re seeing them reborn and, in this cycle, there is reason for joy and not fear. As Bob and the Bible frequently say, we should not be afraid.
I hope I answered Bob’s question well, even if it wasn’t necessarily in the way he asked. The joy we see in hospice workers like Bob (whose name means ‘shining’) and Paulette (whose name means ‘humble’) is that they know what they’ve been put here to do, and they do it with their whole selves, the best they can. They welcome people in with the heart of God, they walk them through doors, and they shepherd them home, just like the Holy Spirit sent them to do. Their joy is both multiplied and shared, hand to hand and soul to soul, with their labor, and with every threshold we cross together. In the end, their joy comes from the knowledge that we belong to each other. We’re family, and someday we’ll know that for sure in a place where joy never ends.
For my friend, Mr. Mackey. From the grateful hearts of our family and community of St. Basil’s Chapel.