3…2….1…….LIFT OFF!

While it seems like just yesterday I was turning 30….today I  turn 31.  It’s not a milestone year by any stretch….I’m not 21, and my age no longer ends in a ‘0’ so many ask “why the party”  or “why are you celebrating?” In this case—–it’s not a “why”, but a “what”.  I’m another year older, and trust me, some days my body reminds me of this!

But that’s not what I’m celebrating.   I’m celebrating me.  I’m celebrating the many things I’ve faced in life, and overcome.  Taking care of an ailing father, at the young age of 15, when so many are playing sports, going out with friends, or learning to drive—-I was administering insulin, or double checking doses before my father injected himself .  This planted the seed of my career in hospice chaplaincy, and I knew something in the end of life area was my forte.  My dad is the only one at the time I felt comfortable talking to about these ideas—-and he was very supportive.  (Although he was pretty miffed at me for a while when I gave up my full college scholarship to take care of him in his final months.)  Then, at the age of 16, I lost my father.  My best friend.   I suffered lots of other events in the time following his loss, especially when it came time to deciding which college to apply to, now that my full scholarship had been turned down by me.  And what to major in.  I no longer had my supportive father in my life, and both sides of my family never supported me in my career decision—it simply was a “phase” to them.  Something that would die out once I got over the loss of my father.  (In reality, I realize now, I would never make them happy, unless I followed their set rules and expectations.)  I hit a downward spiral, and attempted suicide five times, the last attempt being gaining weight on purpose.  I was well over 300 pounds, possibly 400 for all I know.  Then a priest entered my life, and allowed me to work through my depression, instead of eat through it.  The weight slowly started coming off.  So did the inches.  But some of the pain remained.

I tried to gain approval of my family by following their dreams for my life—I tried nursing school, I tried a variety of ideas, but even though THEY liked them, I knew it wasn’t a 100% fit—–I wasn’t happy.  They do not approve of being single by choice, so therefore I tried to find and fall in love with someone, to shut them up.  I found someone I did love, but who apparently did not love me back.  That relationship ended, but I was blessed with the precious gift of my daughter Delanie, who I unfortunately lost to a miscarriage.  But she’s still my daughter, and she made me a mother.  Losing her brought its own wounds and sorrows, some of which I still deal with today.

Then, my mother got sick.  I was able to care for her at the beginning of her illness from home, but then she was removed from my care by my sister.  However, I was able to spend many nights by her side as she entered hospice down in Haverhill, and then was moved up to Hanover Hill for the last 10 days of her life.  I was able to talk with her about deep, spiritual things.  I was able to help prepare her for death…and it was through helping her, that my desire, my calling to this field was brought to light.  My mom was the big, yellow flashing neon sign.  I entered school for my BA in Theology, and have recently started job shadowing with hospice chaplains.  Although I miss my mother dearly, I know she is with me—-each time I job shadow and return with a jaw dropping experience.  Each time someone says I have her laugh, or her smile, or I look just like her.  She has helped me to realize the path I was always meant to be on—-and it is because of the many friends, co-workers, and my new Gonthier family, that I have been able to grow through these moments, and learn to believe in myself.

My last job shadow, I did home hospice visits with a chaplain in Concord.  We went all over, and I met various patients.  One loved music greatly, but had started withdrawing, a part of the dying process.  But the day I was there—-I simply sat with him, encouraged him to share his love of music—–and he suddenly got up out of his chair, and played me his favorite song…. “Fast Car.”  Another patient, a 96 year old lady, never opens up about God, even to the chaplain.  But I sat there, as she shared stories of growing up going to the Catholic church with her neighbor friends, and how although she was never raised Catholic, always felt the most comfortable there.  She opened up and shared her spiritual journey with me, a perfect stranger she may never see again.  When we got up to leave—she looked me in the eye and said “Hospice needs more women like you.  Don’t give up.”  And when Duane dropped me off back in Concord, where my ride was waiting, he too, looked at me and said “I’ll be retiring in 6 years time, so be sure to be finished with all your required schooling by then.  I mean it——you’re made for this.”  To be validated not only by patients who never met me before, but also a chaplain who has been in this line of work for over 10 years…..was priceless.

Even in my own unit, a couple visiting from California, the wife a patient of ours, when I went to order her lunch tray, we got to talking and I shared some of my story with her.  Especially my goal as a hospice chaplain.  Her husband bought me a coffee for no apparent reason, just because he wanted to.  When she was discharged, they both hugged me, hers lasting a little longer—–she held me on the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said to me, “Do not give up your dreams.  You’ve had some bumpy roads in your life, but now is your time to dream and to shine.  There are countless souls whose lives you will touch as they prepare to leave this world, and they are counting on you.  Do not give up.”  By the end, we were both misty, and I hugged her again and whispered “Thank you”, and said I’d pray for a safe return to California.  Was she an angel placed in my path to keep me motivated?  Or was she simply a vessel my mom, or someone up above wanted to use to encourage me?  Whatever her purpose, she will never be forgotten.

Now the party is over—–or is it?  I say, it’s just beginning.  For I’ve overcome so much, through my faith, and the many lovely friends I have in my life.  I’m launching my best years yet—–I’m taking the summer off to rest, recharge, and simply sit at his feet for a while.  Spending time with friends, exploring, flying, visiting, swimming.  Then in September, I will be back at classes, and continuing the climb towards my degree.  Which will then open up the door to my career as a hospice chaplain.  A ministry, a career, a calling that I cannot wait to begin working in.

XO- AHG

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