Oddly, this autumn I've become interested in hospice. Now, it's important to note that I often pick up interests of far-flung subjects, pick them up as if they're on the clearance rack at Nordstrom, and, even though I didn't know they existed a moment before, once they've caught my interest, I have to have them--have to know everything there is to know about them, read every book available, watch DVDs of them, research online, etc. I caught the Antarctica bug one year, having heard an NPR piece about a woman who volunteered to be a doctor at the South Pole base, and while 'wintering over'--the season of total darkness where no plane can get in or out--she discovered a lump in her own breast, did a biopsy, and began treatment right on the spot. The story intrigued me enough that I not only read her book, but also went back in time to read about the race to the South Pole between Scott and Armundsen.
Then, of course, there is the now famous (at least in my family) love-at-first-sight fall I had into African Elephants. I saw a National Geographic Special many years ago about a particular elephant family, whose matriarch's name is/was Echo. I'd never really considered elephants before that, but suddenly, was all about them, all about them as models of community, all about their shrinking homelands, and by extension became interested in all things Africa.
But along the way, there has been the sojourns in the deaf world, missions in India, the Lewis and Clark corpes of discovery, concentration camps, Jane Austen's world, early manuscripts of the Bible, John and Charles Wesley, and most recently, the last of the tzars of Russia (a truly sad story of misplaced faith, temperaments not fit to lead, and a misunderstanding of the true climate of the country). And, of course, whenever I read a novel that I really like, I immediately set out to read everything that writer has written. My family would say I'm compulsive. And I suppose I have something of an addictive personality--I get 'hooked' on something, and go all in, all the time. It could be worse, much worse, obviously. But at the dinner table during one of my sieges, my children don't necessarily think so. There's a whole lot of eye-rolling and chortling, but in my Russian tzarist stupor, I don't notice--any more than Nicholas did to his country's increasing discontent. In those moments, however, I try to make sure there are no sharp objects available to my family. Just in case...
So, a month ago, for a reason I can't quite explain, hospice. Something pushed me even to inquire about volunteering, but I actually called the Monday after the fall training. So I did what I always do when such urges hit me, I went to the library. Put books on hold, checked out several others. And set them all in a pile beside my bed for the week after I finished the retreat in eastern Washington. Didn't pay any attention to them until I was looking for a book to take with me to Seattle. Grabbed one off the stack, and there we are. Me sitting in an CCU room or waiting room, reading, of all things, a daughter's memoir of her mother's last days.
Of course--of course!--in the Kingdom I believe in, there are no such things as co-incidences. Today my sister-in-love is lying in a hospice facility. Still breathing but not moving. And the very volunteers I thought to become one of are carefully turning her body every two hours, the very nurses I'm reading about are checking her IVs. And mostly, they are watching her end days. It shouldn't surprise me that God intersects my interior life with the 'real' world, but I confess I am surprised by it. I can't explain why that nudge came last month. I explained it to my sister after we left Mom one day, that perhaps it was about giving back, sitting with others who are dying because I'm too far away to sit with her daily. But now I see it. Often we don't get to see how the threads of our lives are sewn together for years and years. This time, that thread is more like a braided rope, not only visible but too heavy to lift by myself.
I'm thankful for it, though. I'm thankful for the tiny 'heads up' God gave me about hospice. And I'm especially thankful for this deep, hard, precious ministry itself. I'm thankful for those people who are standing by G-J's bedside even as I write this, thankful that each felt that nudge and acted. It humbles me, while I sit here and read.