I still see her. Elsie. Thin, frail, hunched in a wheelchair, a blanket on her lap despite the warm day. Her hair like straw sticking out from under her wide-brimmed sunhat. Her intense blue eyes twinkled, and a crooked finger motioned me to come over. Maybe she sensed my nervousness.
It was my first day at St. Luke’s Hospice in Sheffield, England. I was there on a fellowship grant. The first two weeks of my time there was with a group of American nurses and nursing students. I was majoring in English and Accounting, with a minor in Religious Studies. I had taken a class called Death & Dying which led to my learning of hospice which led to my intrigue of the concept which led to applying for, and receiving, a prestigious grant which brought me to the UK.
It was Sunday afternoon on the patio with patients and their families. Chatting with Elsie (my grandma’s name) and her family put me at ease. Her kind husband, Bill, teased that they hoped I was not offended that their dog’s name was Kelly.
The next morning, we Americans were assigned to work on the wards. I went to Elsie’s room before my shift started. She offered me a smile and a piece of hard candy. Bill joked about the brash American tennis player (John McEnroe) on the telly at Wimbledon, and it felt good to have a friend.
With no nursing experience, being on the wards was not comfortable for me, but I did my best to do whatever I was told.
The following day, I popped in first thing to say hello to Elsie. She was in bed, her eyes open, but the sparkle was not there. I knew immediately she was gone.
Two nurses came in and brusquely instructed me to roll her over so they could insert cotton into her orifices. I touched Elsie’s arm and my fingers pushed into her flesh like it was putty. It was all too much for me. No words came out of my mouth; I just stood there, and started to cry.
“Oh, is this your first time, luv?” the nurse softened.
Bill came in then and stood looking out the window, crying. He had been with Elsie all night. The nurse told me to go get him some tea.
I was glad to not have to touch Elsie anymore. I was also sad that the first person I had befriended had died already. I of course realized I was at a hospice and the whole point of the place was to be loving threshold for people nearing death. I just didn’t realize it was to be so soon for Elsie.
The nurses did all the things they do to a dead person, and yet I don’t recall if they closed her eyes. They must have. Family was allowed to come, and then Elsie’s body was taken away. The room was tidied, fresh linens and tight “hospital corners” took over the bed. Elsie’s room was left empty for the rest of the day in a show of respect.
I still see that empty bed. The vivid images of her with her crinkled finger waving me over to her the first day on the sun patio, and the stark white empty bed two days later, are still etched in my memory all these years later.
Elsie’s eyes were alive, and then they weren’t. The eyes are the window to the soul, we all have heard that. This was the first time I had ever witnessed life force vacating the physical body. It was my first “tangible” experience of seeing/feeling/knowing the soul had left the body.
Back then I thought we were bodies with a soul. Now I believe we are souls with a body.
While we are here, let’s explore, discover, express, and share love sweet love. Let’s help each other in any way we can.
The ways I am being called to explore and express are sometimes surprising to me. Never in a bazillion years did I imagine I would love facilitating meditation gatherings or that I would be opening a Mind Body Spirit Center (coming in OCTOBER! The building owners' construction repairs are taking longer so we do not get in our space until October.)
Following the callings have led to an awe-inspiring life. I just keep following the spiritual breadcrumbs.
I hope you do too.
We are here to help each other. If there is anything I can do for you, please hit reply and let me know.
"You don't have a soul.
You are a SOUL.
You have a body."
My story of Live AID when I was in England: Freddie, Diana, and me