I am often asked if I’ve ever experienced anything “spiritual” or “supernatural” while working at FAIRHOPE Hospice. Yes, I have. And I know all of our staff who work directly with people on our service and their families have, as well. Usually it happens the same way that God works in all of us; by slowly, inconspicuously putting us in a position to do His work. It is up to us to be alert and to respond.
One event I’ll always remember occurred on one of the first warm days of Spring and, being in the construction industry at the time, warm weather meant business. I was busy that day. I also was a FAIRHOPE patient-contact volunteer and months ago I had accepted the assignment of a man in his 50’s. My normal schedule was to visit him every Tuesday evening.
Since I had been associated with him for the six months he’d been on our service we became good friends. On this particular afternoon the FAIRHOPE office called me and said that my patient, Danny, had entered the dying process. His family was gathering. His wife told the FAIRHOPE office that he was asking for me.
I left work early and went straight to the nursing home where he had been living for the past week. Before that, he was living in a fairly dark, cluttered sleeping room on the second floor of a rundown duplex. My purpose as a volunteer was to stay with him so his wife could go out for a while. He was a veteran of Vietnam and was one of the war veterans who just couldn’t leave the war behind. His life had been one of turmoil sprinkled liberally with alcohol.
When I arrived, a group of about 10 people were on the front porch of the nursing home. Those on the porch were Danny’s wife, brothers, an aunt and a few others who had come over to say their good-byes. Since they were outside, I thought that maybe he died before I got there. Nope. They had ordered pizza and the driver was evidently running a little late.
The transition from the bright, sunny weather and the almost party like atmosphere on the front porch to the sacred radiance of his room was almost too much to comprehend. Only those fortunate enough to have been in a room when someone is dying understand the feeling of being there. The room was spotless, and everything was either white or pastel green.
Danny was shaven, his hair was combed and he was in a clean hospital-type gown. I hate to say it, but I initially didn’t recognize him. During the time that I knew him he always had a scruffy two or three day beard, shoulder length hair and generally wouldn’t allow FAIRHOPE’s nurse’s aides to bathe him.
What immediately caught my eye was his water glass sitting on the bedside table. A sunbeam was shining on that glass like a spotlight on a singer at center stage. As I reverently entered his room he slowly turned his eyes towards me. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open. In the last hours of life there is rarely enough energy left to talk, but I sensed that he was afraid to die.
I talked to him for a few minutes, pushed his hair back a little bit and patted his hand. I tried to reassure him that everything is going to be okay, that soon he would be in the arms of his Savior.
His eyes went down then slowly found mine. I remembered that at one time Danny had told me that he never went to church and that he was “too much of a sinner”. He doubted that he was going to Heaven. Now, thinking of that conversation, I told Danny about what Jesus said to the two criminals as the three of them were being crucified.
The one on His left rejected Jesus, even in his last hour, while the one on His right humbly asked, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your Kingdom.” Jesus answered him by saying, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
My patient maintained his wide eyed stare at me. He needed assurance. He needed to know that he would be going to Heaven. I told him that his emptiness and fear were a perfect match for the abundance and love of Jesus. I assured him that everything would be okay.
The beam of light streaming in from the window illuminating the water glass on the bedside table was now the only thing that I saw in the room. An overwhelming urge directed me to reach over his bed and dip my fingers in the water. I asked him if he felt ready that I was going to baptize him. He looked towards the ceiling then closed his eyes.
Touching his head, heart, and each shoulder I whispered, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The outside corner of his left eye looked moist, although in the last hours of life the body is too dehydrated for tears. I rationalized that I used too much water. He kept his eyes closed, so I touched his forearm and left.
Out on the front porch the pizza had arrived. His wife thanked me for stopping by and asked me how Danny was doing. I told her, “He is at peace.” It was 6 p.m. The FAIRHOPE office called me later that evening and said that Danny had died at 6:45 p.m. He died about 45 minutes after his baptism.
A few minutes after that last phone call it occurred to me that at least ten people had arrived to be with Danny on his last day on earth. Yet, no one was in the room except for me when he needed to prepare to enter the Kingdom. How would the pizza delivery person know that by arriving later than expected, he was a part of God’s plan to help someone into Heaven?
Before I came into the subtle spirituality of hospice work I might not have baptized Danny. I had briefly thought to myself, “What if I’m not allowed, or authorized, to baptize someone? I haven’t been to seminary, I have no training”’. However, in this case I just knew that it had to be done.
FAIRHOPE Hospice comforts physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are not a religious organization but spiritual comfort is at the heart of what we do.
Rick Schneider, of FAIRHOPE Hospice, writes a bi-weekly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.