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Thursdays with Lidia (Copy)

Posted by Chaplain Michael VanOeveren, MDiv.

Thursdays with Lidia (Copy)
Chaplain Michael VanOeveren and Lidia, celebrating her 90th birthday.

Soon after I started working full time in hospice care as a chaplain, I made an initial visit to a patient and her daughter. Little did I know that after 144 visits, four Christmas celebrations, four birthday parties and countless other “just because” fiestas, I would pray the final words of commendation at her graveside with tears in my eyes. As a chaplain I don’t have favorite patients, but there are those that attach to the heart in special ways... especially after five years of visits, laughs, cups of tea and tears.

Lidia was a force to be reckoned with. The eldest of 10 kids, she left her town in Guatemala to study nursing in Mexico City. From there she found her way to Chicago where she completed her coursework and became an RN. Fast forward through 65 years of an amazing life, I enter the scene, the young hospice chaplain still learning the ropes.

My visits were made on Thursday afternoons, always sitting next to Lidia, often holding her hand. In the beginning we would talk some, play balloon toss, laugh at Ellen on the TV, play the pointing game, and laugh at each other...mostly we would laugh. Lidia taught me that it’s ok to laugh at yourself, its ok to say no...at times with as much gusto one can muster. Through her daughter, Anna, I learned to grab life by the horns, when an opportunity to experience something or travel to a new place presents itself: “Just do it! Just stinking do it!” (Thank you Anna, that trip was amazing. I can see why Mama loved that city so much.)

Each time I meet a new patient I always try to keep in mind that they have lived an entire lifetime filled with joys and sorrows, successes and failures, dreams fulfilled and released before having met me. Often I am only able to meet a patient or family a few times, and never have the opportunity to learn their stories to the fullest. But there are those sacred special situations where I get to see the bigger picture, and even become part of their story. The hospice team became the hospice family, a family to Lidia and Anna.

Often when I meet new people, the topic of hospice comes up. “That must be so sad, always dealing with death.” My response is always that hospice is not about dying, it’s about living. It’s about helping others have the best day possible today. It’s about bringing peace, comfort, compassion and dignity to the close of a person’s life.

At the end, Lidia had just that. She was comfortable, surrounded by compassion, dressed in dignity in her own home, and now she is at peace. The last thing I always said to Lidia before I would leave was “See you later!” Her response would be “See you later, Alligator!” The days she could say this added a cherry to the top of the visit, both for me and for Anna. I’ve learned that it’s the little things that make such a profound difference and can bring great joy.

I give thanks for the opportunity to have known, and loved our sweet little “Guatemama.” I am a better person and chaplain for having had the blessing of being her chaplain. Often it’s the patient who does as much ministering as the chaplain. I will always hold a special place in my heart for Lidia, and for all the other individuals who have helped form me into the chaplain I am today.

As was our tradition, at the end of what I knew would be our last visit, I did not say goodbye. I bid farewell to my sweet Lidia: “See you later...Alligator.”

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