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I come from a family of sitters. We sit…and talk, and sit some more. As a child, I sat and watched as adults snapped beans. I watched my grandmother and great-aunts painstakingly choose quilt pieces that would be stitched together for Dutch dolls. I don’t remember much conversation.
There was a time in my life when my mother asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to sit and talk to people. “Are you planning on getting paid for that?” she’d reply.
Well, actually Mom, now I do. As a hospice chaplain, I sit; I listen; I talk; I laugh—the “ministry of presence” as many of us call it. I always hope it’s non-anxious, but some days there is so much anxiety it can’t be held. So I play basketball with a grandson, cards with a patient, can beans with a wife, pick okra with a sister, sing with a brother. Maybe, if I’m really lucky, play golf with a patient. Oh, and eat lunch—fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, rhubarb cobbler, ham smoked in the smokehouse on the farm.
And we talk. In the midst of dying, there is still much to be said. I ask patients to tell me their stories. I think of Jesus’ ministry which was filled with stories: “The kin-dom of God is like…” It is like the farmer who left me heirloom seeds from his tomatoes that I’ll grow in my garden. It’s like the homeless man who taught me that “not one person can take my spirit.” It’s like the veteran who has nightmares and only feels safe when he imagines himself in the belly of his plane so long ago. It is like these and so many others who remind me that we are called to witness the gospel in front of us.
One patient told me she was tired of taking care of everyone else; after all, she was the one dying. All of which is true. Dying takes a lot of work— mental, physical, and spiritual. Caring for the dying? Well, that all depends on how long you can sit with it.
It’s not a comfortable place to be, yet it’s certainly real. And it gets real, really quickly.
We used to do yoga in advanced field education. I used to laugh because “I don’t do yoga”. I didn’t then. It was hard to be quiet and still. Frankly, it was scary. It still is. “Be still and know”… knowing is being present. Being present is sometimes, well, sitting. So I breathe. I find my feet. I sit.
A professor once said, “This is a safe place to do dangerous work.” I never thought sitting was dangerous, but you never know what trouble you’ll find there—confession, anger, brokenness, pain, vulnerability, laughter, tears, scary stuff.
Yet, we do it together—my patients and I.
Yes, Mom, I found that job. And I found me in the process.
Thanks be to God.
Khette Cox, MDiv’09
Chaplain, Alive Hospice