Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lessons from the Roach Hotel

My clinical pastoral education was at Cardinal Cushing hospital in Framingham, Massachusetts. It was a long-term care facility for senior citizens. I cringe to admit we seminarians sometimes called it the "Roach Hotel" because the only way any of the residents ever left was in a casket. Needless to say, that resulted in literally every conversation there that summer touching on the topic of death, usually brought up by the residents.
It was a helpful time for me personally, as I was finally able to deal properly with the death of my father a decade earlier when I was 13. (The goal of CPE was to tear down our faith and then rebuild it on a better footing, so we all spent plenty of time on the hot seat in the middle of our group, dealing with our issues.)
My biggest takeaway from that summer was that there were only two happy patients in that hospital. One was a quadriplegic, only able to move his head, but still always surrounded by nurses and other visitors as he conversed happily and positively with them. From him I learned you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Rather than dwelling on his aches or inabilities, he spent his time listening to his visitors and sharing interesting memories with them.
The other happy patient was a 90+ year old woman in a ward of almost 100 patients. Her secret was that she made a point of visiting every other patient on her ward every day. That gave purpose and meaning to her days in a place where most others were just waiting to die, long since having outlived or been forgotten by everyone they'd ever known.
Ever since that summer, my goal has been to be like those two happy patients, and I hope I still remember their lessons if I too someday am in a roach hotel, awaiting the end of my days on Earth.