He shuffled through the sliding doors to the Emergency Department and stopped at my podium to be screened for entrance into the hospital. He was elderly in his 80’s, and his tired blue eyes matched the color of the mask he wore. I asked, “How can I help you, sir?”
He stated, “I was called by my wife’s doctor to come and see her in the ICU.”
I noted the two wedding bands he wore on his left hand as I collected his wife’s name. I wondered if one was hers. My thoughts then drifted to the state of his wife’s health if the hospital was allowing him to visit. The guest services clerk helped me look for his wife, but she could not be found by name alone.
I returned outside to get more information. He slowly unwrapped a yellow cough drop, his hands with a tremor, and slipped it up through the underside of his mask as he answered. Back inside, the birthdate was entered, the outcome: deceased.
Guilt washed over me as I felt I was told a secret I was never supposed to know. I possessed this information before her husband of over 60 years. I walked back outside, and offered him a seat, thankful my yellow mask covered enough of my face to not give anything away. We sat in silence, though my mind wandered.
Someone who was loved, had a family, with all the experiences and memories, was no more. There are people that will grieve for this person and spend their life reconciling with the emotions that come with not being present during their loved one’s last breath. Then my own feelings, thinking about the people I love, and thoughts of not getting to be by their side as they depart Earth.
He broke my thoughts as he asked, “Can you help me look up my daughter’s number on my phone?” I obliged and watched him carefully write down her number on an index card. He handed it to me saying, “She will be the best one to call if anything changes.” He unwrapped another cough drop, I held my hand out to discard the wrapper, an attempt to turn away so he could not see the tears in my eyes.
My faith says she was not alone when she departed. My faith also says that God was there surrounding all the people waiting outside the ED that day, anxiously awaiting news about their loved ones. I believe we are never truly alone.
The man returned many hours later. He paused at my station and shakily asked, “Can I have a new mask? Mine is all wet.” He took off the tear-soaked blue mask and discarded it. I held out a new yellow mask and gave him a sympathetic smile, I now realize he couldn’t see. I watched him shuffle out to a car. The driver, likely his son, emerged and embraced his father. I watched tears flow down his son’s face, the sorrow of this family juxtaposed by the sunny Spring day.
There are memories I have which define certain times in my life. This memory will define the COVID-19 pandemic for me. I won’t forget his eyes, just like I won’t forget the face of the first person I saw die. This pandemic has disrupted our daily lives and taken from us moments that will cause much grief for years to come.
I went for a 9-mile hike the following day. I thought about my experience with this man during the time I wasn’t focused on how I was placing my feet on the rocky trail. I made it to the lookout point, as pictured above, and thought about how beautiful the world is. How the mountains look like palms interlacing each other against the vast expanse of the sky. Yes, God is with us always.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
“As we lose ourselves in the service of others we discover our own lives and our own happiness.” —Dieter F. Uchtdorf
#REFLECT: What act of kindness or service have you witnessed in these COVID times that gave you hope or happiness?