As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of the dying on multiple occasions. And I have heard from many over the years how much they appreciate the work that Hospice does to bring comfort and care in a person’s final days and hours. So, I have always known that to be true, based on others’ testimony. Now I know it is true from personal experience. My younger brother died recently at the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home in Winston-Salem, the city where our mom lives. Eric lived most of his life in Myrtle Beach, and when it was clear that his days were nearly gone, the only desire my mother had was to be by his side until the end. I will always be grateful that the good folks at Reynolds made that possible.
From the moment Eric arrived, until his last breath one week later, he was loved and cared for by the staff at Hospice. The morning after Eric was transported in an ice storm from South Carolina, we got a visit from the chaplain, Rennie Adcock. I don’t know if it is a requirement for hospice chaplains to be able to sing, but this one sure can. Rennie came in and greeted my mom, my wife, and me, and then turned his full attention to Eric. Though Eric could not open his eyes to acknowledge this man, I know he heard as Rennie sang “In the Garden” in a beautiful tenor voice. The chorus goes, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” I had to wipe away a tear or two as this dear man lifted his head and sang so sweetly of the care Jesus has for his children. Rennie then prayed for Eric, and as he left, he told us that if we needed anything at all, he would be there for us.
The nurses who came in around the clock to check on Eric, to give him medicine, to keep him clean and comfortable, treated my brother as though he were the only patient in the place. They loved him to the end, though he was a stranger to them.
But nobody loved Eric like Mom did. Mom spent nearly every night by his side, sleeping in the roll-away bed that they set up for her in the room. When I came in to take her place on the day before Eric died, I found her sitting by his side, her head in her hands, her elbows propped on the bed. She was praying for her youngest, as she had his whole life. But she was also grieving that for the second time, one of her three sons was about to leave.
I spent that last night with Eric, not knowing he would die the next morning. He was laboring to breathe, and the nurses were doing whatever they could to comfort him. Though Eric couldn’t respond anymore, I prayed for him to be ready to move from this world to the next. I rubbed his head and held his hand, and told him that I loved him. When it was time for the UNC basketball game, I turned on the TV. “Hey, Eric,” I said. “The Tar Heels are playing! You don’t want to miss it.” If he had been able, he wouldn’t have missed it. He was a Fox, and the Foxes love Carolina basketball.
I left the next morning at 6:30 in order to beat the work traffic and get back to Burlington for a class. I told my students that my brother could die at any time, and that’s why I had to have my cell phone with me. Ten minutes after I said that, the call came. The nurse I had given my number to that morning told me, with tears, that Eric had just died.
To all the staff at Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home: thank you for the way you loved my brother. Jesus is glorified in the care you give to the dying and to their families.