End of the day visit. New admit.
I drive to the house in the North Central neighborhood, only blocks from where we lived when I was a little girl (I'm a sucker for anyone who lives in this neighborhood...). I cross Kentucky Avenue and find the house, a two-storied glory with a beautiful old iron fence. Someone in this home gardens. I see coral-bells and tulips in their last moments of wonder.
Inside I find a man in his 50s. He sits, amidst the hardwood floors and antique pieces and rocks ever so slowly in his recliner. He is the caretaker of a Catholic cemetery. "Best work I've ever had," he says slowly. He has a brain tumor, a glioblastoma. It makes him talk quietly; he is reflective as he speaks, weighing each word.
"You know," he says, "I feel awful for Susan (his wife). I couldn't have it if she died before me. The good Lord is looking out for us, seeing as I get to go first. She's stronger than I am. It's better this way."
Joe talks about his three sons. He talks about the joy of parenting, about how we raise them to be independent, it's the most delightful and sad task in the world--this letting them go.
I say, "It sounds as if you are at peace." He nods--an affirmation. "Today is a good day," he says. "I can't complain. Look at this sunshine?" I can only nod.
We talk awhile. And then the doorbell rings...
I pause, remembering the two boys in white shirts, navy pants and ties that I saw wandering from door to door as I drove onto the block earlier this afternoon. Mormons, perhaps? I usually shoo them away gently. "I'm a minister," I say. "I know about Jesus." Then I smile, and thank them for stopping. I pride myself on my gentleness.
But when the doorbell rings, Joe rises slowly. With his shuffling gait he makes his way to the door while I wait, assuming he'll send them on their way. I hear the conversation.
"Good afternoon, Sir. We're from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. How are you?" Joe speaks softly and I can't hear. There is the exchange of words. I sit, expectantly, waiting for Joe to emerge from the front porch. It's okay, I can wait.
Five minutes pass. I have finished the paperwork on my initial assessment during Joe's front-door encounter. I pause and listen carefully to the conversation around the corner, wondering why Joe isn't back yet. I hear the mormons, these fresh-faced young boys say, "Do you have a few moments so we can speak our faith to you?" And Joe responds openly, "Sure...why don't you sit down with me here on the sun porch."
I emerge after the first few questions they ask, quietly from the living room. Joe is sitting on a wicker chair listening to them explain the book of Mormon. I walk over to say goodbye and tell him I'll come back early next week, when I can spend time with both him and his wife. He smiles, and introduces me to the "Elders." These elders who probably reek of Noxema.
Joe says, "I'm not so good with names anymore, can you introduce yourselves before you go?" I tell them my name, that I'm Joe's hospice chaplain. I hit the word "hospice" hard. It's my code to these boys...a code that says, "be gentle with him," or "listen well to him," or "he has wisdom that you're 18-year-old spirits have yet to know." Mostly I want to say, "Listen. Listen. Listen. You are in the company of one who can convert you."
Joe smiles up at me from his wicker chair. "Come back," he says softly.
Wild horses and evangelistic mormons couldn't keep me away.