Blessed are the poor in spirit

For a significant part of my career, I was a grief therapist affiliated with a Hospice program. People came to our agency for a range of reasons, all having something to do with loss. We also provided grief support as a routine part of Hospice care to the entire family system. Today’s point of light occurred in the juxtaposition of events in one day during this incredibly meaningful time of work.

My morning did not get off to a good beginning…my car wouldn’t start. It was dead, with no hope of revival. I wished I had an automotive grief counselor, or better yet, an on call mechanic. I had two home visits scheduled that morning. The only thing I knew I could do at that moment was borrow a car. The person I lived with at that time (now, my ex-husband) had a beat up wreck of a car that had even more issues than my car did. But, that morning, that wreck of a car started, while mine did not. In a spirit of half anger and half humility, I borrowed it and went off to work.

After a quick check in at the office, I looked at my two scheduled visits. Each was a a supportive counseling visit with a woman whose spouse had died on the Hospice program during the past month. This was before the time of the GPS, so I looked up the address in my indexed map book of the county. The address was in an incredibly affluent area of town. As I drove, the homes grew larger and my insecurities grew exponentially. By the time I reached my destination, I concluded that I looked more like a pizza delivery person than a social worker. I felt small and insignificant and horribly out of place. The woman I was visiting was lovely and dignified but seemed unable to be present with her own emotions. I kept thinking we would soon get to a real place of feeling showing through, but she would instantly excuse herself when any hint of emotion emerged and would not come back into the room with me until she was free of any outward expression of feeling. My awkwardness and her awkwardness seemed to co-exist, each oblivious of the other. I took care to be present with her in spite of the looming elephant in the room. She took care to be present until I had gone over all the information, and thanked me for making the visit politely as I wrapped up the conversation politely. So much could have been different, for each of us. But neither of us seemed able to cross the chasm.

My second visit took me into the depths of the city, into an area where I knew I should only be with a reason. It was where I had lived in college, in an Italian now mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood which had recently experienced heavy gang activity. Suddenly, my transportation situation seemed irrelevant. I had planned my meeting in advance and my client’s son was standing out in front of the house to meet me. He motioned and two of his friends came over, with lawn chairs. They sat down next to my car. My client’s son said, “they’ll make sure your car is OK. I’ll make sure you’re OK. Mamma’s inside and she really wants to talk to you.” I chuckled (and they smiled) when I thanked them but said I was fairly sure no one would want the car even if I left the keys inside. But I was deeply appreciative of their protection, and they were deeply appreciative that I came to be with their matriarch.

During the next hour, I met with a deeply spiritual woman who was longing for someone to whom to pour out her soul and tell her stories. This was a family that wept and cried, shared pictures and stories with me openly as if I was an old family friend. They lit candles and told me of the rituals they put into place to mark their loss together and collectively remember. It was a home barren in possessions and rich in feeling, faith, and family. I felt myself tearing up several times from the gratitude I felt to be a part of their collective mourning for a short while. We connected deeply and meaningfully, and we put a plan in place for the next three visits to continue this process of mourning and healing. When we finished, my escort walked me to my car, and the guardians of my beat up vehicle nodded to me and showed me where to turn around safely to leave the neighborhood the same way I came. I watched them watch me until I was safely out of site.

In my beat up car after a day of many contrasts, I felt several palpable lessons. Grief knows no socioeconomic strata. Loss knows no ethnicity. Richness of spirit is not measured by wealth. Recognition of who we are…the beat up parts and the dignity…are the fabric of our collective humanness. We all are ashamed of something, fearful of something, protective of something, grateful for something.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

All of us.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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