Editors Note: Missioner Cindy Mizes shares beautiful memories created alongside Mr. M, a gentleman at Consie Walters Cancer Care Hospice in Kingston, Jamaica.
Consie Walters Cancer Care Hospice is a place where impoverished men and women with terminal cancer are lovingly cared for. This summer, I had the privilege of ministering there.
On my first day at the hospice, Mr. M, a gentleman suffering from lung and brain cancer, asked me to shave his scalp. My immediate thought was harming him, as I have never shaved anyone’s scalp before. But a nick on his scalp couldn’t be any worse than what he has already been through. So with trepidation, I carefully took the twin blade Bic razor from his bedside table and very gently began shaving his scalp trying to keep my hand as steady as possible. “Harder!” Mr. M. instructed. Fortunately, we both came out of that experience unscathed and with no complaints.
Mr. M. is in the last stages of cancer. He will eventually succumb to the disease which has ravaged his frail body and mercilessly stolen every ounce of strength from him. But his mind has not been affected. He is still as alert and sharp as any other 58-year old male and is fully aware of his inevitable fate. He shares stories with me about his life, such as when he worked as a “presser” at a laundry and about his regrets for never getting married or having a family of his own. I try my best to console him, but it’s hard to not empathize and feel the sadness in his heart.
One day, Mr. M. looked at me straight in the eyes and with the most earnest voice bluntly asked, “Do I look dead?” I looked into his deeply sunken eyes and his skeletal body scarred and ravaged by that terrible disease and said, “No Mr. M., you look very much alive. Anyway, don’t you worry about how you look…let God worry about that.” Often, I will tell him that he is handsome (which is true), which always brings a smile to his face, and to mine.
Another day, Mr. M. politely asked if I could find him a watch, “Naw an expensive one.” I responded, “Now Mr. M., why do you need a watch…do you have a date or something?” At first I thought his request was quite ironic as a dying man, but then it occurred to me that time is probably something he cherishes. The fact that his days and hours are numbered doesn’t mean that he has stopped living. I imagine Mr. M. realizes that each minute of each day is a precious gift and he isn’t willing to give up on life quite yet.
I discovered that everything Mr. M owns is shoved into three trash bags that came with him when he arrived at Consie Walters Cancer Care Hospice. I know this because he had me dump the contents of each bag on to his bed one morning to search for one particular green polo shirt — the only shirt he owns that “dun make me itch.” After searching through each bag, I found it. I then ever so carefully pulled the polo shirt over his clean-shaven head then pulled through each frail, scrawny arm until it was on. Then, I helped him out of bed, and together we walked to the front room, sat down, and watched TV. What a precious gift!
Mr. M. likes having well-manicured hands so I will clip his fingernails, file them nicely then gently massage his hands while talking with him. I will also anoint his head with oil and bless him. On most days, I read from the Psalms or Gospel to Mr. M. One morning he asked if I could help him pray. Together we prayed to God, asking for his mercy. I taught him how to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” There was no doubt that God was listening and embracing us with his unfathomable love that day.
Mr. M. lives each precious moment of his shortened life by not letting his spirit die before his body does. Mr. M’s courageous battle helped me find the courage to face my own mortality, appreciate the precious things in life, and discover the joy within my soul which lives eternally. What an unexpected delight and priceless gift!
Thank you Mr. M. “Walk good,”* and may your memory be eternal!
*A Patois expression wishing good fortune and a good trip for departing travelers.
Post Script: During my hospice visit on August 20, 2018, I saw how weakened Mr. M. had become. I tenderly stroked his forehead and gently told him to close his eyes and to just “go to sleep”. Not more than a couple of hours later, Mr. M. fell asleep into the Lord’s arms. His personal possessions were left on his bedside table and included his digital watch, a book on the Psalms, his fingernail clippers, tweezers (which he always had in his hand), eye glasses, cell phone, and a wooden rosary which I had given him the week before he left. For me, these simple possessions are worth more gold because they belonged to a man whose heart was more precious than gold! By God’s mercy, Mr. M. lived his last days with dignity and left this world with dignity. May his soul enter peacefully into God’s kingdom.
Reflection Question: In what areas of your life can you introduce the ministry of presence?