September 1, 2019

The Taste of Gratitude

I may forget who I am, but He will still know me. I have accepted Him as my Savior.

Dixil Rodríguez

"It’s a beautiful day for a cup of tea; won’t you join me?” Sitting on a chair in the memory care facility that I work in is Frank. Military veteran, always observing, spending his mornings between breakfast and lunch sitting on one of the chairs facing the garden, a white porcelain cup nestled between his shaking hands. His words are more than an invitation.

The walker next to him narrates the silent story of inability to prepare tea and return to the chair on his own. He is inviting you to help him make the tea and sit with him. For Frank there is no family, no visitors. Just a daily cup of memories.

* * *

Before I visit any patients, I walk through the facility, committing this new task to God and asking for wisdom. This will be home for four months. I will work as a hospice and palliative chaplain. God, is this the right choice for me? My job is to visit the patients every day, talk to them, prepare families for a moment of loss and bereavement.

While chaplaincy work is familiar, memory care is challenging. Not everyone in this space is at the same “place” in their physical decline. When I visit, I see family pictures on the wall, wedding pictures, mementos. I realize this is a sacred responsibility. Patients ask end-of-life questions, and they expect me to have the right answer—a difficult process to navigate between legalities of potential proselytizing and the reality that I may have but one opportunity to share God with someone near death.Most are scared, seeking comfort in the warmth of a faith they once knew.

* * *

Frank prefaces his stories, looking out the window: “This is a good cup of tea. Have I ever told you about Rosie, my wife for 47 years?”

This is a good cup of tea. Have I told you about my time in the war?”

This is a good cup of tea. My son lived to be 13. Accidents happen, but no one tells you that God is the only insurance you have to mend a broken heart.”

Every morning, 9:00, tea with Frank. We make our own space placing two chairs and a small table in front of the window. I see him every day. Soon the walker becomes a wheelchair, then he is bed-bound. One day while having tea and reading a morning devotional, Frank reaches for my hand: “I have buried children, my wife, friends, but God is merciful. I may forget who I am, but He will still know me. I have accepted Him as my Savior. Thank you for the company, for reading and praying. I am at peace. Your time with me makes the tea taste of gratitude.”

* * *

Two weeks later I arrive at the center to see an empty chair with a teacup next to it. Just one chair. I sit and a familiar friend, a nurse, takes the cup and gives me a hug. “The military chaplain is on the way. What tea can I get you?” I smile. None. We never drank tea, just water. Water that tasted like gratitude.

Dixil Rodríguez lives in Texas.