This is the next installment of Rebekah’s ongoing series about the Beatitudes. Read previous blog posts here.
She is the gentlest person I’ve ever met; no wonder her patients adore her.
When I first spoke with Heather Meyerend, a hospice nurse from Brooklyn, New York, her voice conveyed a tenderness unlike anything I’ve heard. Aware of my own involvement in a local hospice, a friend had forwarded me an article from the New Yorker that had me immediately hooked.
Entitled, “A Tender Hand in the Presence of Death,” the article highlights Heather’s multifaceted approach to end-of-life care, declaring that “Heather believes in caring for the whole person, body and mind.”
Intrigued, I replied to the article, requesting to be put in touch with Heather. A few weeks later, Heather and I met informally. It was a hot summer day. As we sat in the shade, Heather recounted her journey from her native Jamaica to Brooklyn, where her mother began working as a nanny when Heather was in high school.
“I was directed to nursing through a particular verse of Scripture which states ‘We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children,’” Heather related (1 Thess. 2:7). At the time she was preparing for a career in teaching but felt directed by God toward nursing. “My sense of following the Lord was like being carried in a current,” she continued. “And when the Lord guides you into an area, it becomes a ministry.”
Disillusioned by the constraints of hospital nursing, Heather was soon drawn to hospice work, which she found deeply meaningful. “With hospice, I felt I was making a profound difference,” she mused. “People embrace your presence in their lives because they are facing the end and are eager to have someone come along the way with them. Instead of jumping from one patient to the next as it was in the hospital, I could now journey with one patient until the end.”
A woman of deep Christian faith, Heather sees her work as an expression of God’s mercy to patients entrusted to her care. At times, mercy is shown through the alleviation of bodily suffering; at others it takes on a more spiritual nature. As we talked, Heather recounted touching stories illustrating both.
Assigned to a new patient several months ago, Heather conducted an initial assessment in the man’s home. Reaching out to her, the man implored, “Nurse, I would more than anything else like to have a bath; I need to be washed.” Usually performed by home health aids, bathing was not Heather’s responsibility as a registered nurse. “I could easily have said, ‘Oh the aid is coming tomorrow morning,’ but I said, ‘No problem; I can do that for you.’” Heather gave him a bed-bath. “I washed him head to toe. His wife said, ‘I’ve never seen such a bed-bath!’ The patient was so thankful. It was as if I’d given him a million dollars. And would you believe it, he died the next day. Sometimes you are there just to grant a simple wish of somebody. He just wanted to be clean. It did something to me, too. When I finished I said, ‘Wow, he looks good!’ I changed his clothes, combed his hair, gave him clean sheets, and made him look nice. I gave him that last, final send-off.”
Recalling a patient from Queens, Heather remembered, “On one of my visits, the patient began discussing funeral plans. She made it clear she did not want her daughter to attend. I said, ‘What do you mean, you don’t want your daughter to attend? She’s your daughter!’ The lady replied, ‘I haven’t spoken to my daughter in years.’ I challenged her, ‘You are facing death and you have this unforgiveness in your heart.’ My patient was Catholic, so I said, ‘Listen to the Bible.’ I opened up to the Lord’s Prayer and said, ‘Let’s look at this together.’ As it came to the passage where it says, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, I said, ‘Do you understand what that means? If we have received such forgiveness from God, how can we withhold forgiveness from others?’ My patient listened, thank God; she reached out to her daughter.”
On Heather’s next visit, the lady excitedly related that she had called her daughter to apologize and they had reconciled. Heather continues, “At times we have to risk jumping into someone’s life and saying, ‘There are certain things you have to let go of. These things are like a chain tying you down.’” Helping a person to let go of past hurts brings peace. Heather sees this, too, as an act of mercy.
A Scripture that came to mind as I listened to Heather foretells the final judgment. In it we are told that Jesus will bless those who fed and clothed him – those who welcomed and visited him when sick or incarcerated. Perplexed, the righteous will answer that they never saw the Lord hungry, naked, or in prison, to which Jesus will reply, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).
Each of us needs God’s forgiveness. We are all fallen creatures who have bungled our lives in one way or another – intentionally, perhaps, or in ignorance. I, too, have known times of deep sorrow over sin. I have battled despair. But I have been forgiven, for much.
Forgiveness gives birth to love. Knowing ourselves undeserving of God’s mercy, we humbly accept his gift of pardon. Immeasurably indebted to him, our hearts overflow with love and thanks. The Gospel of Luke relates a story that powerfully portrays the deep connection between mercy and love. Invited to the home of a Pharisee, Jesus is visited by a sinful woman who anoints him with her tears of remorse while pouring expensive ointment over him. Jesus’ disciples are indignant at the scene being played out before them. Doesn’t Jesus realize the sinfulness of the woman anointing his head and feet? Jesus rebukes them, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but [this woman] has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much” (Luke 7: 36-50).Comments
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