Tom King, hospice chaplain prays with Robby Smith. Robby, 63, has had four operations on her brain tumor, and the last one left her considerably weak. Occasionally she has severe headaches and is unable to walk. “I always think I could just walk off,” she says, “but after a few steps my head starts swirling.”
It was a sunny Friday afternoon. Spring outside. Birds. Laughter. Life.
Inside, a woman with an eye patch and half her hair gone, was sitting in a chair and the tears were rolling down her cheeks. Even from her unseeing eye.
It was infinitely sad. Not because she was dying. Life was all around, and life was, oh, so loud. But the woman was sitting in her chair, disoriented and resigned.
And when she does die, life will go on uninterrupted. Birds will sing and wind will blow.
Because that’s the way it is.
Almost as if a tradition, the women in Robby’s family get married at the age of 17. Five generations are still living, Robby, her mom, her daughter, and her granddaughter just had twin boys. Three of these generations lived in the same house, so Robby had to move to an assisted living home. “She’s grieving that move,” says the chaplain. “She was an active person and now she’s dependent on other people and that’s hard for her.” Left, Sarah Pheifer helps Robby with her shoes.
When the weather is good, Tom takes Robby for a stroll around the block. Otherwise, they spend a lot of time talking, reminiscing, sometimes he reads scripture. He was a pastor for 20 years, when one of his adopted sons had to leave public school, because of a severe emotional disturbance. Tom resigned to take care of him and looked for a part-time job. Hospice seemed a good choice. “Even before I applied, I felt it was meant to be,” he says. “I love the work.”
“It’s such an honor and privilege to be invited at such a time of people’s lives,” says Tom King about his chaplain duties. “It’s very real. It brings life in very sharp focus, what they value the most, what their treasure is. It’s very moving to see the courage people have in facing death, their faith, care for people they love and a sense of God’s presence.”
Robby’s husband Moe was diagnosed with a brain tumor after she got the news about her condition. They were married for 45 years. One day he’d asked the Chalice of Repose harp program to play for him, hoping that he’d die while listening to their music. He was disappointed because it didn’t work. Nevertheless, he died very soon after his diagnosis. Robby still grieves his death three years ago.
Robby thanks the chaplain and slowly articulates in her barely audible voice, “I hate to say this, but I have met the nicest people since I got sick.”