When I first met Mr. R, who had just been told that his heart was so weak, that he’d likely die within weeks, and asked him who I could contact for a family meeting, he told me “no one”.  Of his 3 children, he was estranged from them all. I pitied him, he’d clearly chosen a life of solitude.  The event that prompted his admission to the hospital was being found by his neighbor on his floor of his home. He was extremely thin, having lost  60lbs of weight this year, he was very weak and he was having a hard time breathing.

I almost left it at that, accepting that there was no one he wanted to contact, but I pressed him a bit to see if there was a glimmer of hope. Finally he teared up and weakly said I could try his daughter on the east coast. I think he was more afraid of rejection than the hope of seeing his kids again.

A few days later his daughter arrived and the tears flowed as the power of forgiveness wafted over each of them.  “Can I call Teddy?” his daughter asked, speaking of one of his sons. He bristled as the mood changed and he grunted “No”.Well I thought, at least he’d been reconnected with his daughter.

Mr R. left the hospital and I lost track of him until this week, when I started back at the hospice house.  When I walked into his room I was surprised to see a room full of people. Such a contrast from the lonely, sad man I had first encountered weeks before. I asked Mr. R to introduce me to everyone. He beamed with pride as he introduced grandchildren he had recently just met and then had to pause as tears started when he came to his son.  It had been 20 years since they’d talked.

These are precisely the moments I live for in palliative care. I was a witness to healing; not a physical kind of healing, because Mr. R is still in the process of dying, but a relational healing.

It’s seems backwards to say, with Mr. R on his deathbed, that this will be the best Christmas ever for them – but strangely it is.

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