Despite my fears that Friday night would be the time of incessant business, it turned out to be Sunday. Sunday was the day that I had planned to bring consecrated communion elements to one of my patients, an elderly German lady who is a Lutheran. Our Synod assembly was preventing her pastor from visiting her, she said. Outliving the Garrison Keillor phrase, " the women are strong," her body is giving out, and hard decisions need to be made about a extended care facilty, not a return home after the fall into the glass curio cabinet. I had offered to bring her communion and share a period of worship with her. It turned out to be such a crazy day that by the time I got there, she had gone for an ultrasound. Her roommate, an even frailer lady was curious about my visit. I had asked her if she wanted to join in communion and she had refused until I was about to leave and return at a better time. Suddenly, her tiny voice cried out, "Wait, you're Lutheran aren't you? " "Yes, I am." "I'm Episcopalian! No one has been to see me from the church, may I join you after all?" I assured her that would be wonderful. I left a note for my original intended visit to have the nurse page me.
I was finishing up a trauma when the nurse called and cheerfully chirped, "The girls are ready for you!" Knowing I had not much time, but how important this connection to the outside world was, I tried to clear my mind as I headed up in the elevator.
When I arrived, each was sitting in a chair, with lipstick on. I explained what we would be doing and offerred a printed copy of the service to Dorothy, the Episcopalian lady. Rita, the Lutheran, knew the service by heart and still would be saying much of it in German.
So we began, and then Dorothy realized part way through the confession that she needed her bifocals. We stopped and after a thorough search could not find them. Rita chastised her for not having them out. I offered that I would speak the confession and Dorothy could follow in her heart. God would still know her thoughts.
We were just about ready to have communion and my phone went off. The family of my cardiac arrest patient had arrived. I responded that I would be there in 5 minutes.
I began to sing "Lamb of God" and they both joined. They each began to cry. After communion and prayer and a blessing, I spoke with each- not as long as I would like but long enough to hear how much the liturgy and sacrament had meant to them. A window on who they had been before the chronic-ness of now. Faded memory, failing bodies, families who are tired and stressed about what to do.
Today was a followup visit with Rita about her options, and as we met. A group of doctors and family came in to tell Dorothy that there are no more options, the cancer is inoperable, hospice is next, and one more diminishment to a once vital soul must be faced.
Then I was called for a death of a 101 year old woman who was surrounded by family, who lived to see great, great, great great grandchildren. Goldie lived on her own until two weeks ago. So for Rita, Dorothy, Goldie and all of the other women who once had a carefree mind of their own and a devilish look in their eyes..