I knocked at the doorway and announced myself. Grace was awake in bed, but upset about something.
“Oh, Joe! Come in! Can you do me a favor? I’ve lost something and could use your help finding it.”
Grace (not her actual name; I have to change it because of privacy laws) once had bright red hair that fit her personality. The red is gone now; her hair turned a pretty, cottony white after chemotherapy.
And today, something else was missing.
“I can’t find my left boob,” she said. “Would you be a dear and look around for it?”
Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever been asked that question!
Grace developed breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. She wears prosthetics when she goes out. Her daughter had taken her to a family luncheon. Back at the nursing home, Grace had misplaced one of her prosthetics.
I got on my knees and looked around. There it was, under the bed. It was much heavier than I imagined. When I handed it to her, she laughed and said it’s good to have all of your parts.
Isn’t that the truth?
Grace is one of several ladies whom I visit as a hospice volunteer. I know it’s cliché to say that I get more out of it than I give, but nothing is truer in this case.
I have the privilege of getting to know funny, caring, life-giving people who work in nursing homes. And I get to spend time once a week with people like Grace.
Janet (again, not her actual name) is in her 90s. She grew up in New England. Her tall-and-handsome Navy husband died many years ago. She has a photo of them together on her window sill.
When I ask how she’s doing, Janet will usually say in her Northeastern accent, “Oh, I’m OK. You try to make the best of what you’ve got. Though sometimes it’s hard.“
She enjoys talking, especially about the real stuff in life: Being a parent, getting older, having your body fall apart. We talk about God and New England winters and the Kennedys and whatever else is on her mind on any given day.
Janet is losing her eyesight and isn’t able to read, which was one of the loves in her life. So I read to her each week. I’ll bring some story or book that I think she’ll enjoy. Or she’ll ask for something on a specific topic.
When I left her last Sunday, Janet had a request for next week’s reading.
“Could you maybe find something about death? Or heaven?” she said. “I’ve been thinking about those lately.”
Well, OK. Death or heaven. I’ll see what I can do.
I looked on my bookshelves, but found nothing about death that might interest Janet. I don’t spend much time thinking about death or reading about it. Doesn’t really interest me, if you know what I mean.
I’m a lot more interested in hearing about people’s experience of life. Especially the times when they felt like they’d lost themselves — or parts of themselves — and somehow managed to find them again. Sometimes, with a little help.
Heaven? I imagine that’s what it’s like.
I prefer to think of heaven — or whatever you want to call whatever it is that comes next — as a place where God knocks on our door, enters with kind eyes and a sweet smile, and asks what we’re missing. And then kneels and looks around to find all of our missing parts.
The parts that have been there all along, just out of our sight or out of our reach. The ones that somehow got kicked under the bed at some point in our lives.
Lost, but now are found. All of us.
Completed by love.