This week while visiting The Church of the Holy Faith in Santa Fe, and while enjoying the prelude which was a familiar hymn, I was reminded of a hospice patient I had the pleasure to serve a few years ago. I share with you about Betty.
Betty left her home months ago. She lived there with a granddaughter who had battled demons and defeated most of them; though a few, I fear, still persist. Betty was moved from there and settled in with her daughter to a fine house, safe behind wide iron gates. Then she was taken to a facility, to a bed by the window, three square meals a day. In all these transitions, I never heard Betty complain. I never heard her speak of home or the changes in time or how she longs for what she does not have.
On this day of my visit, Betty is in bed. She opens her eyes when I call her name. We talk of small things. She wants to know where I live, how many children I have, the two questions she always asks. “Fourth Street,” I answer, and “no children,” the answer always a disappointment to her.
“Shall I read some scripture?” I ask, knowing her Bible is close at hand but likely never used since Betty requires assistance with such a task; and there isn’t much of that in her new place.
I choose Isaiah, a passage about comfort, written to a people in exile, a verse or two that reminds the castaways and the broken that they are not alone. I finish the chapter and look at Betty. Her eyes closed, her body so still, I think maybe she has fallen asleep and then she smiles slightly. “Beautiful,” she says. And, encouraged I read more. From Matthew, this time, the Beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Beautiful,” she responds. “So beautiful.” And we are silent.
I once had a friend who told me his aunt was a saint. She stayed with him and his wife until they could no longer care for her and was then moved to a facility. They continued to visit her regularly and he said, “Every time I went there, someone was in the room with her, sitting next to her, brushing her hair, holding her hand. They said she had a light even though she was nonresponsive, a light they said that drew them to her.”
I think about this woman and my friend, now dead, his light gone, and I look at Betty.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,” I begin to sing. “When sorrows like sea billows roll,” she joins in. “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul,” we sing together, quietly, softly. It is a duet of confident but shaky voices.
When we are done and my spirit is suddenly and completely stilled, I say to Betty, “You are the light of the world. You have the light.”
And she opens her eyes and smiles. “Beautiful,” she says, and then closes her eyes once again.
You are the light of the world, beautiful friends. You have the light. Go and shine!
NMCC Conference Director