Viaticum

I have a list. I’m a very organized guy! (Okay, not really, but I do have a list)

Every week, I go to the long term care hospital to bring communion to folks with long standing medical issues. Here in America, this is where we send people to die.

It’s a sad way to put it, but it’s the truth. While you would expect this to be a depressing place, I have found the exact opposite to be true. I am uplifted every time I come here, and have related some of the inspiration I have received here already.

I was told I have a new communicant by the church office, I was to find Bill. He had just been admitted.

I took care of the regulars first, paying attention to the doors as I walked along to see if I saw Bill’s name. We had a great visit as always, and one very nice lady gave me chocolate. I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but I was hungry, so it was a real treat.

I can easily spend several hours in here every time I come. These folks are lonely, and I am often the only visitor they will get all week. As you can imagine, they want to talk, and I do my best to oblige as much as I can.

So by the time I was done with my route, I was running a bit behind schedule. I’m used to it, and my next stop knows I will sometimes be a little late, so it’s no big deal. Nevertheless, I felt rushed as I finally started looking in earnest for Bill.

A couple of the nurses there are Catholic, so when they see me confused, they usually jump to help me out. God bless them or I would be lost most of the time. They found Bill for me. He was sitting in a hallway.

I was a little scared of Bill. He just did not look normal. Something was seriously up with him.

His hands were blue and swollen. He smelled like rotting food. His shirt was filthy from where someone had tried to feed him. I won’t lie, I was pretty uncomfortable.

I’m a brave guy though, and I got down on my knees in front of him so he could see me without raising his head, and asked him if he wanted to receive communion. He didn’t move, but his eyes locked onto mine. They were starting to get that dull blue that often happens with really old people.

He opened his mouth to talk and his whole body started shaking. You could tell he wanted to say something very badly, and just couldn’t get it out. It was seriously starting to freak him out.

So I took a hold of his cold blue hands, and held them and asked him again, this time just asking him to nod his head. Again the shaking. I was thinking I was going to need to grab a nurse, he was in seriously bad shape. Add to that his teeth which were clearly in the process of rotting away, and his foul breath, to be honest, I just wanted to get out of there.

Instead, I squeezed his hand, and told him it was alright, and proceeded to pray for him, and give him communion. He very carefully, very slowly chewed the host, and then he started flipping clean out. This was way beyond a little shaking, he was clearly upset. There was something he really really wanted to say, and just couldn’t pull it off.

So I reached up, grabbed him by the back of the neck while still holding his hands and told him not to speak. I told him there was nothing he needed to say. I told him I was there, I understood, and I would be there again next week and he didn’t have to say a thing. I touched my forehead to his, and prayed the Our Father.

He calmed down immediately and started to cry, staring straight at me. I just stared back. But I’m a busy guy, so on I went on my merry way to my next stop.

Bill died that afternoon.

I have a million things I want to say, a million points I want to make, a million lessons to be gleaned from this experience, but I just can’t be my normal witty self.

The truth is, I was too damn busy and scared to just sit with him, and I am so deeply saddened that it breaks my heart.

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2 thoughts on “Viaticum”

  1. But you were there for him Dance… you most likely gave him more attention in thta little bit than most had given him in a long time.

  2. Dance,
    Oh, my brother… Your love is working just fine. Please don’t let regret or second-guessing cause you pain. What if no one had made it to the nursing home that day? Or what if Bill had been getting a visit from a doctor at that time and you missed him? What if, what if…..

    I try to have faith that, since I always pray for The Lord to use me and guide me, and pray for those I will see that Sunday, I am usually where I am “supposed to be.” Don’t let the evil one torture you with what if.

    Hospital or nursing home ministry is hard. We’re fighting the good fight to bring Jesus to folks and bring folks to Jesus. I beat myself up sometimes about not spending enough time or not trying to find one more unplanned communicant… Then someone reminds me: you’re not God! You only work for him.

    Amen?

    Praying for you.

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