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home : opinion : perspectives

10/27/2016 9:00:00 AM
REFLECTION
Parable of the gracious stranger
BY LINDA BERKERY


"'Which of these, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man?' He answered, 'The one who treated him with mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise'" (Luke 10:36-37, from the parable of the good Samaritan).

There was a soft glare of sunlight on the road to the hospital. My son, Tom, answered my cell phone call as I parked the car.

"Hospice was trying to reach you," he said.

I knew what that meant. I was fresh from Sunday Mass, the Eucharist still on my breath, and everything had changed. There was a different nurse standing outside Mom's door. I told her who I was and she confirmed that my mother had just died. I asked her to give us some time alone. She did -- for about 10 minutes.

This nurse had been on vacation for a week and had never met my mother, but she seemed to want to chat. She asked if she could tell a story. I looked up from the other side of the bed, puzzled at her request. But before I could say no, the chatty nurse spoke about her relative who died -- and she went on and on.

I cringed. I didn't care to hear her tale. I certainly knew that people die, having grown up in a funeral home. Similarities were not soothing. The moment of my mother's death embraced me completely.

Since the chaplain was already on the floor, the nurse asked if I would like him to stop. I said yes, thinking that would be better. It wasn't. Two sets of bedrails separated us. He made no attempt to come closer.

He quickly led some formal prayers: "Our Father," "Hail Mary." All I could think was, "Please slow down; be attentive to me, a daughter standing here in tears. Be attentive to this grieving grandson. Why are you rushing?" I certainly knew that pastoral ministry was all about the gift of presence.

His prayers were not peaceful. I thanked him anyway.

I washed my mother's face. Already, her body was changing -- cooling and hardening. My son and I remained at the bedside until the funeral director came. He asked us to step outside. We waited alone in the hallway, our backs to the wall.

The door to Mom's room opened. The daughter of the patient who was in the bed on the other side of room came out. I had never met this woman; we had only nodded to each other. The other side of the hospice room was always dark. A large couch separated the curtained beds. I didn't understand the whispered language from the other side of the room.

Now, this gracious stranger wrapped her arms around me in a hug and said in choppy English, "I am so sorry about your mom." Her words, her long embrace, her tears were genuine.

And so I ask: Which of these, in your opinion, was neighbor to the grieving daughter? Not the healthcare provider telling her own stories, not the rushed spiritual guide, but the stranger who understood pain and responded with a heart of compassion.

Go and do likewise.

(Ms. Berkery is pastoral associate for adult faith formation at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Latham.)





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