“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
Just three years ago in the month of March, I had the great privilege of beginning my work as a Healthcare Chaplain in Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross. I was following in the footsteps of another Columban Sister who was indeed a hard act to follow. Sr. Rita Deegan, some five months previous, had retired from her chaplaincy post and I attempted to fill the vacancy.
Rita’s skill was not so much in having answers but in being able to listen and be attentively present; to receive and honour confidences; help carry fears and doubts and give reassurance to fragile lives. She is remembered for her inimitable gentleness. During her years at the Hospice she toiled and tended, minded and mended, nurtured and noticed – all in Rita’s own quiet way. Her legacy was to be my first blessing as I began my work in the Hospice with many more blessings to follow.
Blessings that were very personal to me came in the form of three women dear to Columban Sisters whom I had the privilege of attending in their final weeks of life. Maura Burke and Therese Fitzgerald – both were faithful members of our Sale of Work Committee for many years. Therese was a sister of our own Sr. Philomena. And the third friend, Margaret Morgan who had been a Columban Sister missioned in Korea. As they steadily journeyed toward God, I was being schooled in what deep faith means as death is embraced and a life well lived draws to a close. May their noble souls rest in peace.
Since I started working in the Hospice I’ve been thinking of how glad God must be to have become Incarnate! Hospices claim to create an atmosphere of ‘Home-away-from-Home’ – a place where those of faith and of no-faith can experience themselves as beloved on the earth. Indeed, I have found that a warm humanity and caring presence does characterise the care-givers in the Hospice, from Consultant to Carer reminding us of the One who enters into a loving engagement with us so we might know ourselves as beloved especially when suffering and illness visit us.
With each terminal patient we witness their struggle to cope with their new identity – humanity stripped of all non-essentials. It is especially then that they become our teachers in the human skills necessary for our caring roles. The experts tell us that, as Staff, ‘we are the medicine’, ‘what resolves suffering is relationship’ they say, and that ‘Quality of Presence’ is what matters. And so the Clinical care is offered together with a vigil of the heart, attentive to the small things that make all the difference.
Caring in thoughtful ways is exemplified for me daily by attentive relatives and staff. One such case was when I beheld the young female carer, beyond the call of duty, staying back with a dying patient. This patient had long since doubted his self-worth having drowned it in wayward ways ending up homeless and on the streets before he came to us.
Noticing he was alone and seemingly convinced of the value of human nearness, the carer stayed with him holding his hand, easing his fears of finality, restoring unto him his dignity. And then having seen him across Heaven’s threshold, she secures a single red rose which she then places on his coffined body. Surely in such caring we come face-to-face with an incarnational God.
We learn from the pages of the Gospel that Jesus prized and practiced Presence in healing ways. It must please Him then when the Social Worker encouragingly accompanies the young ‘terminal’ mother as she ponders her children, too young yet to understand that she is nearing death, and tries to put together some special mementos for their future lives. And so a Memory Box is painstakingly filled with Mum’s Hand-made cards; a birth-name tag; a special photo and little gifts and gems bearing her loving care for them. This gesture ensuring her children will know themselves as beloved on the earth in their future lives.
And what joy it must bring Jesus to see the aged Granny who, in these days as I write this reflection, is sitting up in her hospice bed knitting ‘baby-grows’ for her great grand-children both born and unborn. And as the ‘baby-grows’ multiply we notice a re-threading of hope happening for her dear fragmented family who have gathered round her. Between the plain and the purl, frayed relationships are being mended and things that have been lost and broken are being restored and reconciled. And I am reminded of Someone else who achieved healing for us while on His cross: “He carried our infirmities and bore our weaknesses”. From this Granny’s Hospice bed miracles are being wrought by caring hands, life proving itself stronger than death.
Though feeling oneself beloved on the earth is wonderful; it must be but a pale prelude of what it is to feel oneself beloved in Heaven. My prayer is that Hospice Care might continue to be marked by such warm human qualities that they make us long to be in the Presence of the Beloved in Heaven, knowing ourselves to be His own special beloved, cherished beyond all our imaginings.
Sister Rose Gallagher, Healthcare Chaplain in Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, Dublin, Ireland