Jean had spent her life seeking affirmation and acceptance in the darker shadows of life, trying to fill the endless emptiness within she fed her hunger for love with drugs, alcohol, casual sex and gambling. She had spun a cocoon of shame to insulate herself from husbands who abandoned her, children who were removed from her and family who used and abused her.
The hospice team met Jean when her hard living and AIDS diagnosis had weathered her beyond her years. She appeared to be three times her age. Worn, weak and without support she sought the assistance of the hospice team to help in the last stages of her life’s journey.
Remaining wrapped in her protective cocoon she kept the hospice team at a distance. Nurses’ visits were short, home health aides were not allowed to assist her with personal cares, social workers where viewed as intrusive and chaplains denied entrance. Slowly, as she began to feel the unconditional love and non-judgmental acceptance of the team, the cocoon of shame began to disappear as Jean’s story of numerous additions, prostitution, neglect and abuse of her children unfolded. Once she gave voice to the pain that had spun the cocoon, healing began to happen as the love of the hospice team bean to sink into Jean’s tattered self-esteem.
One day she asked the chaplain, “How can God love someone like me? I am such a bad person.” The chaplain was speechless. Holding the hand of a woman who had not experienced a loving, healthy touch throughout her life, the chaplain sat with her in silence. Finally, the chaplain said, “Jean, the hospice team has cared for you and loved you for a long time. There have been difficult moments, but we have continued to lovingly treat you with respect and dignity. We have kept coming back, no matter what. That is how it is with God’s love. God keeps loving us, no matter what.” She smiled, squeezed the chaplain’s hand and said, “I hope so.”
The love of the hospice team touched Jean to her core and she began to believe that God loved and accepted her for who she was.
Jean’s life neared death. Disease had wasted her body to skin and bones. Her eyes had sunk deep into her skull. However, as she stared death in the face, her eyes sparkled with life as the hospice team watched a beautiful butterfly emerge from the cocoon. The butterfly unfolded its wings and flew toward eternity.
Thanks to Kris Linner of Fairview Home Care and Hospice for sharing this essay and photograph.