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The Power of Presence

One morning as I walked through the halls of my unit inviting residents to participate in the planned activity, I saw a bedbound man stirring. I had been trying to speak with him for a while, but he was so sick that he was either too tired or in too much pain to answer. When I saw him picking at his sheets I walked into his room, greeted him by name, and asked how he was doing. He looked up at me, and as he did so, I noticed that he had vibrant blue eyes. Although the rest of his body was frail, his eyes were so bright, as if his spirit lived inside of them. He asked me how I was doing and reached up to take my hand. He held it with his right hand and then cupped his left hand on top. He was unusually lucid. This man invited me to sit down and proceeded to ask me what was new, so I told him about my community’s plans for Thanksgiving and that I would be retaking the GRE. Suddenly, he looked up at me and asked, “How do you do it?” I was so struck by his poignant question that I struggled to find the proper response. I replied, “It makes me happy. I love talking to people.”

I know that I gave him a very surface-level answer. If I were better at thinking on my feet and not in such shock at his question, I would have replied that I care very much about people at the end stages of their lives. They are so vulnerable and are often lonely and in pain. I want them to feel remembered, comforted, and loved. The end of life is scary because nobody knows what is coming next, and each of us will be making the journey alone. In those last months and days of life, I want people to know that someone cares and that their life is still infinitely precious. Furthermore, even if people cannot converse, the gift of presence is powerful. There is a deep personal connection you can form with someone just by being there and looking into their eyes.

I have had several residents pass away during my five and a half months at Stella Maris, and it is never easy. Because I spend so much time in the same unit five days a week, I form close relationships with them. I think about them so much that it is like they have become family. I tell my residents about my day, my clumsy incidents, and my wonderful roommates. I share my life with them just as they share their feelings and meaningful moments of their day with me. Jean Vanier believed that by sharing our vulnerabilities with others we can truly get to know them and form close, personal connections to become kin. It is difficult for me to think about the end of my year of service because I have formed these types of relationships with my roommates, co-workers, and residents. Wherever life takes me after July, these relationships will remain carved in my soul, and the experiences I had this year will shape future decisions and the road I walk.

Brandi Bos: Stella Maris, Baltimore

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