A reflection from CACINA Seminarian Mike Ellis

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Reflection written by Mike Ellis – CACINA Seminarian

“Love is patient, love is kind. . .  Love never fails.”  1 Corinthians 13: 4, 8 (NIV)

When I first entered Helen and Tom’s lives some time ago, it was during a time of crisis. As a chaplain for a local hospice organization, I had received a referral to make a call on them. In keeping with accepted practice, I had familiarized myself with their situation, or “case”, by reading the notes of various medical, social work, and related professionals involved in Helen’s care.  I knew, for instance, that Helen had been ill for some time with multiple debilitating diagnoses, and that even with the various services she was receiving, she was still largely dependent for all her daily needs on the constant care and attention of her husband Tom, who was determined to keep her at home.  And I knew that Tom was no spring chicken.

And so, as I prepared myself to meet them, driving up to their house, parking in their steep driveway, making sure the emergency brake was on before I got out, and slowly making my way up the steps to their front door, I said a prayer, asking God to help me help this couple who, according to everything I had read, was surely in crisis.

But the notes did not, and could not, prepare me for what I encountered when I entered their home.  For within fifteen minutes of meeting them, I realized that what I had actually entered was a love story.

I saw it all around me:  in the comfortable, cozy, welcoming informality of their home;  in the simple furnishings that reflected a shared lifetime together;  and, yes, in the many beautiful and thoughtfully crafted handmade quilts displayed with care on their walls. 

But most especially, and unmistakably, in their interactions with each other.  For although by the time I met her Helen was largely immobile and nonverbal, she was not relegated to a bedroom, a “sickroom”, in the back of the house.  Oh no. Instead, she was established in her recliner in the living room, where she and Tom could share each other’s company. And the really interesting thing about it was, in all the many hours I would subsequently spend with them over the next few months, I don’t think she ever took her eyes off of him.  And he, for his part, still clearly delighted in her company.

And sometimes Tom, in telling me about their past exploits on quilting trips, motorcycle rides, and snowmobile adventures, would look at  Helen, make a lovingly funny comment about the two of them, and then turn to me and say, “Look, she’s laughing.”

I confess I never quite saw what Tom did.  And that’s the whole point.

You see, those were private moments between two people who, despite the intrusiveness of illness and well-intentioned strangers, could still recognize, claim, and celebrate space they reserved for themselves alone.  Space only they could see and enter. Intimate space. Holy space.

Where do people learn to love like that?  Where did they?

To no one’s surprise, in time, Helen died. Which means I don’t make as many trips as I once did to that house with the steep driveway, taking care that the parking brake is on before I amble up those stairs to the front door.

But that’s ok.

They’re not in crisis anymore.

They never were.

“And now these three remain:  faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthinas 13:3 (NIV)

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