The risk and reward of ‘hello’

I miss Ted. The way the nurse Georgia misses Alice. The way the social worker Rosemary will miss Eve. No matter how our work in hospice is measured by others, part of the job is that you get close to some people. You connect. You relate. You share deeply from your own well. You draw from theirs. And you miss them when they’re gone.

Ted died only a couple of months after my father, and maybe that’s what made this death sting a little more. But somehow I imagine I would still feel this way if I hadn’t suffered my own tragedy, hadn’t faced my own personal loss. Even as I witnessed his decline, even months before that, I knew I would grieve this one. He had me at hello.

I don’t know what creates a connection between two people. I can’t say for myself whether or not it’s pathological and there’s some deep need that was not met in my childhood so that I search for what’s missing in clinical relationships. Or if it’s narcissism, as I’ve discovered it feels so much better to surround myself with those folks who value my presence than to be with those who could care less about me.

I can’t say if it’s transference or some psychological complex or if I’m just an intimacy junkie. I suspect my line of work and my style of interpersonal relations are not entirely altruistic. There are certainly rewards and benefits in this profession as a hospice chaplain.

The truth is, however, I don’t really care anymore why it happens. I don’t want to be analyzed or scrutinized. I care not whether this represents some need for emotional growth. I know a connection when I see it, and when it does occur, I feel grateful and awake and deeply, deeply honored, because it doesn’t happen all the time and it doesn’t happen to everyone.

And the older I get, the more I know with clarity what makes my life worthwhile, what makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. It isn’t the things I can buy or the places I might visit. It isn’t even the books on the shelf or plaques on the wall. What gives my life purpose and meaning is being connected to another living being, engaged in relationship, having my life intersect with another.

After all, that’s my understanding of the real meaning of communion. Not bread or wine. Not consecrated elements or even symbols of a messiah among us. It’s community, an intersection of stories, an opening of one heart reaching out to another. The sharing of life.

Ted is gone. What we had is not. And even though I miss him, even though Georgia misses Alice and Rosemary will miss Eve, at least we know the secret of rich, fine living. We get up every morning with purpose. We understand the gift that comes when in openness and spoken truthfully we risk everything, saying hello.

Lynne Hinton is a minister and author: