Reflections of a Hospice Chaplain During COVID-19

The clients I routinely visit, reside in senior facilities. Buildings are on “lockdown” – which means I am kept out, they are kept in. Residents are referred to as “the vulnerable,” which differs from “the weak.”

Many senior clients share memories and talk about hard times: the rationing of flour and sugar, metal scraps gathered to recycle; precious pennies saved in a jar on the counter. Many walked three to five miles to school in any weather. They walked across the city in deep snow and bitter weather, to reach their jobs. (My grandmother would hug me so hard I thought my ribs would break. She washed dishes in scalding hot water that hurt my younger hands. She was up from dawn to eve, always working.)

Vulnerable, yes, but not weak.

Facilities remain open. Hospice doctors, nurses and nurses’ aides are still able to reach out and touch, as are facility staff – administrators, doctors, nurses, aides, and many others who are on the “front line.” They too, have become vulnerable, but not weak. Healthcare and facility staff are some of the strongest people I know. I am grateful for their presence. Many residents already live in isolation…their minds in another place, their body present. As group activities and visitors are temporarily banished, those who attend to their needs, in place, are the lifeline for residents.

My clients may miss me, but I miss them more. I look into their eyes and see eternity. Their gnarled hands grasp mine in sweet communion, and thanks. They tell their stories. I tell them mine. Sometimes a handshake is so strong it almost hurts.

Vulnerable, yes, but not weak.

Today, we need one another, in whatever capacity we are allowed. May we continue to hold each other close, in whatever way that is possible.

Sheri Evans, Chaplain, March 2020

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