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Life Goes On

Election day was bittersweet for me.

Just before I left the house in the afternoon to get on the train to head downtown to meet Greg, I learned that my favorite hospice patient died. He’s been a patient of ours for a year and for the last ten months I’ve visited him every week.

His death came as no surprise. I’d been to see him on Monday morning, after learning of his sharp decline over the weekend. He recognized me for a moment when I got there, calling out his familiar, "Helooo, Clara," before going back to talking to someone in the corner who wasn’t there. I sat with him for a while, holding both of his hands while tears streamed down my cheeks. Before I left I gave him a kiss on his forehead and told him that I loved him.

I’m not sad for his death but I will miss him dearly. He was due to turn 96 years old next week and was a Lutheran Reverend for most of those years. He and his wife had been married for 65 years and the house in which he lived had belonged to her parents, built at the turn of the century.

I met The Reverend (as everyone affectionately refers to him) in January and I’ve gone to see him every week since. All day long he would sit in a reclining chair by the window, listening to classical music on an old radio and looking out the window at the quiet neighborhood beyond. An old grandfather clock chimes behind him and he shuffles through the newspaper. I would sit across from him and let him tell me stories. Sometimes we would just hold hands. He always greeted and bid me farewell with a kiss on the cheek. He always called me Clara. He often told me he loved me.

He was intrigued with my story: the girl with no parents who moved from Los Angeles to follow her heart. Being old fashioned and conservative though, he was worried that I had moved all this way without the promise of marriage. He offered many times to marry me and Greg. I took Greg to meet him in an attempt to assuage any concerns. He agreed that he’s very handsome. And on each visit after that The Reverend would check my hand for a ring. In late April, when I finally got to hold out my hand with its sparkly diamond engagement ring, he was thrilled and we celebrated with sparkling apple cider.

He was even more thrilled with our quickly following nuptials and listened in earnest as I told him all the details upon our return from Cape Cod. I blew up photos so that he could peer at them, declaring everything perfect. I always felt that he was looking after me and I never doubted that he loved me. He often reminded me of my father and I never stopped being grateful to have him in my life this year.

Last week, on my regular visit, he was already beginning to decline. I told him then that I was pregnant and he was thrilled. "I’ve been waiting," he said, with a grin, and I was glad that I told him. Leaving that day, I had a feeling that it might be one of my last visits and when I got the call on Sunday that he had really taken a turn for the worse, I leaned against the counter in the kitchen where I’d been making soup, and I closed my eyes for a moment, so grateful for all this time I’ve had with him.

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But visiting him on Monday was harder than I thought. I will truly miss our time together each week. It’s been one of reflection and gentle caring, one of support, and a nourishment I didn’t realize was missing in my life. The Reverend has been a beautiful reminder that life continues to unfold until the very end and I will always be grateful for the time we shared together.

6 Comments

  1. That’s a great picture.
    And a/n _______ (there are so many adjectives to use to fill in the blank: poignant, impactful, beautiful, touching to name a few) essay.

    Comment by misabella on November 6, 2008 at 12:40 pm

  2. A treasured memory, and how fortunate for you both to have meant so much to each other in the time you had together, Claire. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be for your heart to go through this over and over again with the patients you come to love.

    Comment by Carroll on November 6, 2008 at 2:46 pm

  3. THANK YOU for loving these older folks like you do; my heart physically can’t take this type of ministry because everyone would become, to me, my beloved (deceased) gramma and grampa. i’m so glad they’re in your presence, though. my ministry is at a women’s prison, people i can connect with at a different level and in such a different (yet, similar?) way. one woman almost successfully committed suicide the other day. my heart would’ve broken at this world’s loss of her existence.

    Comment by RzDrms on November 6, 2008 at 9:38 pm

  4. Claire, Rev. truly loved you, everytime we worked together, he was asked by me – did you see Claire this week? and his eyes would glissen with happiness and joy, I enjoyed seeing that. I love the photo of you both, it is so beautiful.
    I forgot to tell you this after the meeting – While walking to his area, I mentioned did you hear the good news about Claire, he said “Yes” with the biggest smile. Then his aide (C) mentioned what do you think she will have a girl or a boy, and he looked at her and said “A baby.” We all smiled.
    He always looked forward to seeing you, he enjoyed you, you made him happy.
    Take care,
    Diane

    Comment by Diane on November 6, 2008 at 10:14 pm

  5. Oh, Claire. This post has tears streaming down my face. I love the way you embrace your time with him and are “not sad for his death” but “will miss him dearly.” I can only imagine that it has taken your own tremendous losses and growth from them to have this sort of mindset. You are such an inspiring person to share yourself with people at the end of their journey here in this place. I agree with him, too, we all want a baby, boy or girl, just a happy, healthy baby, with a sparkling eyes like their Mom and Dad. I can’t wait to meet the manatee.

    Comment by Zora on November 6, 2008 at 11:18 pm

  6. Thanks for all these nice comments, everyone. I’m really going to miss the Reverend.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 11, 2008 at 8:57 am

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