Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sacred Space

      I slip in the front door quietly. I garner a look from everyone present at the nurse’s station. Not breaking stride I move on past cognizant of their eyes following me. I make certain my hospice volunteer name badge is prominently displayed on my left pocket. I carry a file folder with the patient info inside. As I make my way into the patient’s room, I open the door gently so as not to disturb him.

      Charlie lays in a bed staring out the window. He is in reasonably good spirits today. Strange how the dying are so many times in a good mood. I guess that in a world where every day can be your last just waking up can be cause for celebration. We exchange pleasantries and I drag up my chair. I’m excited to be here. Charlie is a great spiritual force in this epoch, and I’m honored to be part of his care giving team. You see, Charlie has one foot in this world and one in the world to come. His diagnosis is such that he has retained all the functions of his mind and has little pain to contend with. This is quite unusual among the dying and beside providing Charlie with a comfortable exit, it provides me with a rich, alert and receptive medium who is daily in touch with that which so interests me.

      As I sit and bring out my papers on which to scribe notes, I ask Charlie about his recent dreams and visions. He lights up. His most recent visitor was his dog from his childhood. He clearly describes the dog to me. It is black and white, or rather, it was black and white, as far as I am concerned. To Charlie, however, the dog is, not was, and he is very black and very white and he has long hair. Charlie points to the window and smiles. The dog is there now. I can sense that Charlie is anxious to have his reunion.

      This dog thing is new, and I make a note of it. I’m not sure how I’d verify if he had a black and white dog as a youth, but there is no need to verify it. I’ve been in so many situations like this one with so many patients, I know what the answer will be. Sure, I could do some research, dig up old family photos, talk to his siblings and ask all sorts of questions about his childhood pets. Were I able to locate the right person, I’m sure they’d confirm the description of the dog, but same would be pointless save for the skeptic. I’m no skeptic. In fact, I’m a believer, a radical believer, and Charlie knows it. That is why he likes to have me here.

      I make my notes about the dog along side the notes about the angels and spirit beings that he sees on a regular basis. Of all the folks I have sat with, Charlie has more contact with spirit realms than any. He sees the angels clearly, converses with them as need be, and has a face full of joy and contentment after he finishes these visits. I swear, sometimes he just seems to glow. All of this from a man who will be leaving the planet any day now.

      Charlie has a wife. She is a wonderful woman. Bright, educated, attractive. She cares for Charlie well. He stayed at home much longer than most men in his shape. His sweet little bride attended to his every need until it was just plain impossible to do it any more. Finally, when the physical strain got too heavy, she brought him here. Although she is his life’s companion, he cannot talk to her about the spiritual things. I don’t know if it is her fear of his dying, which is the implied outcome in such conversation, or if she just does not “buy in” to the actual presence of the spiritual along side the physical on a daily basis. Regardless of the reason, he can’t talk about these things when she is present. That is why my visits are so special to him.

      After we finish talking about the dog we talk about art for a bit. He is a collector of sorts. Nothing he has is famous as art and none of the persons who wielded the brushes would be persons of fame. That notwithstanding, the art he has is all good. Each piece features some interesting treatment of light playing on subjects. Funny, a man so attuned to the spiritual has art that deals with light. A “child of light” well describes him.

      We continue our visit with the usual conversations. He tells stories of his days as an electrician, talks of his kids and grandkids, talks of his father and siblings. He tells of journeys and travels. Each story is told quietly, reverently, with great care and compassion. As I listen, which is my primary job as a hospice volunteer, I regret that soon these stories will be gone for good. When he takes his last breath they will no longer be accessible in this realm. It seems tragic, but it is completely normal. Out with the old and in with the new. A person born in the country every eight seconds and one leaves every eleven. Each tick of the clock takes a collection of stories with it just as it provides the opening pages for the new ones about to begin. I wish his stories could have been captured. I wish all stories could be captured. It seems such a waste to let them get away.

      In time I realize he is getting tired. He has me crank up the oxygen a bit before I leave so that he is comfortable enough to get out any last thoughts he needs to send with me. With a smile and a weak handshake, we part company. As I back away from his bed, I watch him look out the window again. He smiles. I imagine the dog is doing a few tricks for his entertainment. I can sense that their reunion will be a happy one.

      I miss my visits with Charlie in the coming weeks. I’m out of town on one week, and on the next I arrive to find him sleeping peacefully. I decide not to wake him. Flipping through my sheets, I find another patient to go visit that is just down the hall. I check back in on Charlie as I leave. He’s slipping in and out of consciousness. I sit and hold his hands for a while. We have no verbal communication.

      Another week goes by and one morning while eating my Wheaties, I see his obituary. Our local newspaper allows the families of the departed to participate in the writing of the obits. The results of that policy are warm, rich, wonderful columns that almost make the person come alive in your mind. Charlie’s was no exception. I assumed it must have been written by an English teacher as everything was completely perfect. I drop my head and say a little prayer of thanks for him. I learned so much, I always learn so much from all of them. Hospice work is by its nature a sacred space.

      A couple of weeks later I pick up the phone and call the medium I keep on retainer. She is always glad to get my calls and I schedule an appointment. After I hang up, I make out a check to her and drop it in the mail. In the coming days she will meditate and do whatever it is that she does to conjure up the spirits of the departed with which I have worked. I’m always amazed at how she can do what it is that she does. She has no idea of who they are or what time I spent with each. That notwithstanding, she is always right on target with her readings.

      On the appointed day my phone rings at 10:00 am straight up. We exchange our normal banter and ask how each other is doing. In time she gets quiet. This is my cue that my former patients are about to show up. Her first words blow me away:

      “Bruce, I’m seeing a balding, smiling gentlemen. He’s sorta small, I see him laughing. Beside him is a shaggy black and white dog. The man looks supremely happy! Does that make sense to you?”

      I chuckle inside. The vision it conjures up makes me laugh out loud. “Yes Beth! It makes perfect sense to me! Tell ole’ Charlie I said hello!”

      “He says hi, and also thank you. He wants you to know that his dog is with him.”

      I laugh. I know he is laughing too.

      Once again, I’m in a sacred space. ©March 2016 Bruce W. Holsted

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