|Posted by Joyce D. Gray on February 22, 2012 at 11:40 AM|
CPSP Pastoral Report
February 21, 2012
Out of the Ashes--- by David Pascoe
It was Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent. I was late leaving the office that morning as I set out on my visits for the day, so it was close to noon when I arrived at the small nursing home that Darlene, one of our hospice patients, called home, tucked away in a residential neighborhood off a busy street. All six residents were at the dining room table finishing a lunch of chicken salad as I breezed in. A couple of heads turned my way in curiosity, but no one, not even Darlene, spoke. “Sorry to catch you at lunch time,” I apologized to Heather, the dark haired young caregiver sitting at the table with the elderly residents. “I’m Darlene’s hospice chaplain. I can wait until everyone’s done eating.” She smiled and nodded as I excused myself to use the restroom.
Even though I took my time, when I walked back into the dining area, everybody was still stoically chewing way at the chicken salad or chasing a piece of chopped celery around the plate with a fork. “Why don’t you sit and join us?” Heather invited with a smile. “I’d love to,” I answered. I took a seat across from Darlene between the only other man in the place on my right and a tiny, white haired woman on my left. I leaned across the table: “Hello Darlene. Do you remember me? I’m David, your chaplain.” Darlene had dementia and a recent diagnosis of incurable cancer. She was aware of her growing memory loss, but her son had chosen not to tell her about the tumor silently growing in her abdomen. She smiled brightly at me and replied in a surprisingly hearty voice: “No, I don’t remember meeting you. But it sure is nice to see you!” Then she turned her attention back to the chicken salad.
n the silence that followed, I looked around the table at her companions, wordlessly intent on their food. I racked my brain from an opening gambit. “Well, today’s Ash Wednesday, and it’s like spring out there this morning. You have a few daffodils pushing through by the front door. Has anyone been outside yet today?” The question floated in the air like a lifeline waiting for someone to grab hold and tug. I held my breath.
“Well, I don’t get out much any more,” said a slow and measured voice. I turned to look as the tall, spare man sitting next to me. I noticed his thinning hair, the huge lenses in his glasses, his belt cinched tight and high around his pants, a few stray crumbs on the front of his shirt. He smiled. “Not since I gave up my car.”
Across the table from him, a woman in a wheelchair piped up in a dry, matter-of-fact voice. “I drove until was 93. Then on my 93rd birthday, I hung up my keys in the cupboard, and I haven’t driven since.”
“Estelle is 96 now, aren’t you Estelle?” Heather added for my information, looking affectionately in her direction.
“How old were you when you started driving? I asked. “Twelve,” Estelle replied as she forked another bite of chicken salad into her mouth.
“Twelve!” I said incredulously. “What did you drive? A tractor?”
She chuckled at me as she answered: “No. I drove my daddy’s Model T Ford up and down those country lanes. That was some car, I can tell you.”
“How about you, Warren? What did you drive?” Heather asked, seizing the chance to help the lunchtime conversation along. “I drove a Model T too,” Warren replied. “But my favorite car was the roadster. Boy, those cars could sure kick if you didn’t crank ’em just right. I had a brother who got his arm busted by one of those things when it kicked back on him.”
I noticed the puzzled look on Heather the caregiver’s face. I guessed her to be less than half my age. “You had to crank a handle in the front to start the engine in those days,” I explained. And if you weren’t careful, you could get hurt.”
“Yes, sir. Gas was 12 cents a gallon back then; 25 cents for the good stuff,” Warren reminisced. “Say, Estelle, what year were you born?” From across the table, Estelle replied “Nineteen and twelve.” “Me too!” said Warren. Then from my left came a sharp little voice: “That’s the year I was born too. And we had a Model T. My dad was a Lutheran minister, you know. He always had a good sermon for Ash Wednesday. I’ve been Lutheran all my life.” I turned to look at the diminutive, white haired woman by my side who had not spoken until now. “Did those strict old Lutherans let you drive back then?” I asked playfully. “Oh, you’d be surprised what we got up to,” she replied and the whole table laughed.
For the next half hour or so, the conversation flowed. I heard about life during the Great Depression and the Second World War. I heard about making do in hard times. What it was like for Warren to play saxophone in a band for $10 a night. How Estelle would shut the curtains on the Model T when she was dating. How in the 50’s Darlene loved to drive those big old cars with the fins. How everybody knew their neighbors in those days, and even though times were tough, how everyone pulled together to get through.
“What year were you born?” someone asked me in a lull in the conversation. “Nineteen fifty-one,” I replied reluctantly, guessing at what would come next. “Why, you’re just a young ’un,” they laughed. “Why don’t you tell us some of your stories?”
And so, the best I could, I tried to paint a picture of my life, growing up just after the end of World War II in a little coal-mining town on the edge of the sea in the North of England. “My dad, both my grandfathers, and most of my uncles were miners,” I told them. “It was a hard life.” They nodded in silent agreement, knowing just how hard life can be, listening carefully to every word I spoke. “The mine where my dad worked went straight down 2,000 feet then out a couple of miles under the sea. He would come home with salt stalactites that would form on the ceiling of the workings, stained brown, yellow, and green from the minerals in the rock.” Suitable gasps and “My, mys” rippled around the table.
“My mom lived in that town all her life until she died of a stroke,” I continued. “It was just two years ago, actually.” “How old was she?” one of the 96 year olds asked. “Just 78,” I answered.
A soft silence hung over the table, old and not-so-young, united by the sweetness of memories and a common sense of loss.
I looked at the clock on the wall and saw I must be going. “Thank you so much for letting me spend time with you today,” I said. “Come back again,” said Warren. “This is the best entertainment we’ve had in a long time.” “Oh, I will,” I promised, “as long as that’s OK with Darlene.” She smiled and said, “You bet,” with enthusiasm.
As I made ready to leave, a thought struck me. “You know, as a chaplain, I offer to pray with the people I meet. May I pray for all of you today before I go?” Nods of approval greeted my request. Eyes closed, hands folded, heads bowed. And I prayed.
I drove away to my next appointment, reluctant to leave that table fellowship, that holy ground, that sacramental place where, for a moment individual lives connected, joys were shared, wounds were exposed, healing was offered. Out of the ashes of their lives, these wise and witty elders created a space for me on Ash Wednesday to hold and share the losses of the past and the intimacy of the present moment.
Chaplain David Pascoe is currently Pastoral Care Coordinator at Primary Children’s Medical Center and convener of the Metro Salt Lake chapter-in-formation. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]
Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at February 21, 2012 8:47 PM