A Better Version of Me
Four years ago, when I first met Kate*, she could still walk. I was a relatively new volunteer for a local hospice. She was a patient.
I didn’t know what to expect. As a volunteer, you never do. You’re assigned a patient and you arrange a visit, but you know very little about them.
Kate lived with her son in a rather run-down house. Her daughter and three grandchildren visited often.
She’d been told eventually she wouldn’t be able to walk.
Kate had been sick for years before I met her. She had some sort of blood disorder that had been difficult to diagnose, and for which there was no treatment. She’d been in and out of the hospital, and taking steroids and antibiotics for a long time. More recently a non-cancerous tumor had begun to wrap itself around her spine. Surgery was not an option. She’d been told eventually she wouldn’t be able to walk.
I wasn’t sure exactly how I could help her, but I kept visiting her once a week, usually after I got off an early morning shift at Starbucks. She always seemed glad to see me. I found out she liked caramel Frappacinos and I began bringing her one each visit. I probably shouldn’t have, as she was also diabetic. But she had so little joy in her life, I did it anyway.
Kate survived on a small government disability payment, Medicaid and hospice care. Everyone in her family appeared to be struggling in one way or another.
Kate’s life was filled with abuse
As time went on, Kate and I began exchanging our life stories. Kate’s life was filled with abuse, starting, it seemed, on the day she was born. Starved by a “caregiver,” before going to live with her mother and siblings at age five, where she suffered sexual and physical abuse until she left home at the age of 14.
Kate eventually married, had two children of her own and became stepmother to three more. She fostered numerous children and worked a number of jobs helping those less fortunate than herself, making a difference in their lives. Her husband divorced and abandoned her after 20 years of marriage, forcing her to fend for herself once again.
Others might have given up, but Kate never did. She’d been saved in her early twenties, and her faith in God never wavered. By the time I met her she could quote Scripture backward and forward. The more she shared about the things she’d endured, the more amazed I became at her ability to survive. At the end of each visit we began to pray together.
Knowing her made me value all the blessings I had even more. That saying, “When you have your health you have everything” became my mantra. Kate was younger than I was, still in her 50’s. She had so much experience, so much intelligence, so much to offer, but she was limited by physical disability.
As we grew closer, I realized Kate was one of the few people in my life who seemed genuinely interested in me. She always asked about my day job. She’d had a lot of experience dealing with the public in service-oriented positions. She wanted to know about my family, my friends. What had I done the previous week? How was my writing going?
I found myself becoming more animated than usual as I recounted even the smallest details for her. I wanted to entertain her, to share with her, because I knew I was living aspects of the life she might have had were she healthier.
I saw how small her world had become. She couldn’t drive. Couldn’t work. Couldn’t shop without help. Her joy the few times I took her to the grocery store made me realize how often I took it for granted or saw it as a chore I didn’t want to do. But, I asked myself, what if I couldn’t do any of those things? What if I was trapped in a house, in my room, in my bed, alone and in pain? What if I couldn’t bathe myself? What if getting to the toilet required a monumental effort equaled only by getting back to my bed afterward?
For that’s where Kate is now.
A couple of years ago, hospice withdrew its care when she no longer met their guidelines for coverage. At about the same time I quit as a volunteer. But by then, Kate and I were close friends and I continued to see her weekly.
Her health continued to decline. A number of hospital stays ensued. She went from a walker to a wheelchair and now is barely able to get out of bed. Her family continues to care for her at home. She’s reapplied to hospice. If nothing else, what she needs now is palliative care.
I often wonder why I am where I am. People come into my life for a reason. Some stay. Some go. But as I told Kate yesterday, with tears in my eyes, knowing her has made me a better version of myself. I have learned from her, grown in faith with her, and grown in other ways because of her.
…faith like that cannot be contained
To the outside world, someone like Kate may appear to have nothing to offer. Her world seems small, yet her faith is huge. And faith like that cannot be contained.
I asked her once if there was something she’d like me to pray about for her. And she said, “That my legacy of faith would be handed down to future generations of my family.”
I pray that for her every day. Because as the beneficiary of that faith already, I know it can change their lives, the way knowing her has changed me.
*Not her real name
Proverbs 27:17 NLT