There was a time when I worked at a hospital and then volunteered for a hospice organization on my days off. I experienced two very different sides of death and dying going from one setting to the other; in one scenario I was involved with life saving measures and, in the other, I was simply holding someone’s hand quietly.
One afternoon, I received a gentleman as a patient at the hospital whom had decided he did not want life saving measures. He also let us all know that, while he wasn’t going to pass that day, he needed help getting ready for the party he was invited to for the next day. He looked us all in the eye and assured us that Jesus was coming to get him. I immediately fell in love with his spunk and arranged things to allow me the opportunity to spend some extra taking care of him. I even went so far as to clock myself out after my shift so I could sit with him off-duty. He did not have anyone with him and he had asked for company, so I volunteered myself to be there. One of his requests was to be bathed, get his hair combed, get a shave, and have his nails groomed. He wanted to look his best when he left for his “party”.
While I bathed him, he began to share with me his life adventures and I heard a lot of stories about some wars, the military, broken families, grudges, poor decisions, and then coming into faith. When he mentioned his faith, he frowned and said he didn’t even have a pastor to pray with him. I offered to find him someone from a church and he said it would be a blessing if someone would come to pray with him before the “party”. It took a few churches and several tries, but I did find a pastor willing to come.
As we waited for the pastor to show up, the man opened up about his son. He had not seen his son for a couple of decades and he gave me the name of the town he believed his son had lived. When the pastor appeared, I excused myself to take the information on the long-lost son to the nurse’s station so the phone calls could be begin.
When I went home that night, I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be, but I knew I was going to spend my day off sitting at that man’s bedside again. The thought of him not having any loved ones with him broke my heart. When I arrived on the hospital unit the following morning, one of the nurses greeted me with excitement and informed me that the son had been found and, “Can you even believe it? He is in the room at the bedside! It’s a miracle!”
That dear old man was able to reconcile with his son and that son had been waiting for me to get there so he could thank me. He met me in the hallway and gave me a giant hug. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me for caring enough to make sure someone found him in time. He had been looking for his father, too. Then, he took my hand and walked me to his father’s bedside. When I leaned down to hug that dear old gentleman, he whispered to me, “You helped me finish my business. I have to go to my party now. Jesus is almost here.”
Then, he closed his eyes as if to fall asleep. It wasn’t until around an hour later that his heart stopped, but he did pop up his eyes open one last time to say, “He is here! I see Him!”
We couldn’t see what that man was seeing, but there was certainly something in the air. It felt like hallowed ground. I was unable to move for quite some time and, honestly, I was peeking over my shoulder just in case. There were a lot of bittersweet tears and hugs that afternoon, after the man’s journey here on earth had come to a close.
I think of that man and his son a lot. When I am trekking through the battlefield that can become of my mind and heart, that dear man seems to show up in my mind’s eye. I delight in the memory of combing his hair as he talked to me about how he came to know God. I love remembering the way his rough hands felt in my hands, calloused from the long life he lived and the tips of his fingers edged and hooked with arthritis. It was so precious to have the opportunity to witness the reconciliation between a parent and child, each with grey hair and wrinkled skin; each with the pride knocked off of their shoulders long enough to forgive one another, love on each other, and say goodbye.
I have cherished memories of all the time I have ever spent with a hospice family or a patient that eventually slipped away. There are intangible gifts that come with that territory, gifts that can only be opened in the heart and seen in the heart. I’ve been unwrapping some of those gifts again and it is as if wrapping paper and tissue are flying through the air in my home today. The contents of those gift bags of the heart fill me up with peace and anticipation. I cannot help but wonder if that dear old man is up there helping my aunt decorate for the wedding party, waiting for the day our Bridegroom comes to take us to the celebration feast. I sent in my RSVP to the invitation and reserved a place at the table.
This had me wondering about all I am doing to prepare myself for the party and whether or not I am actually ready. My heart has been in the process of being groomed and, spiritually, I have asked for a bath to cleanse away all of the things that do not need to be there. I want to be dressed and ready for my Bridegroom, so that I may run into Him with my arms open wide, ready to be received by Him.
I think I like that thought. I am going to hold onto that one for a bit.
2 Corinthians 5:18
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…
This post appears in the book: Shattered in Him © 2016 JD Mays