In my work in hospice, I am periodically in nursing facilities of varying degrees of accommodations. Some are lavish, with plush carpet, mahogany banisters, and the scent of fresh flowers. And others, have chipped tiled floors, walls that are painted institutional green, and smell of urine.
Most of the patients in these facilities have exchanged their business suits and uniforms, for hospital gowns, and their BMW’s and bus passes, for wheelchairs. Their thick chocks of black, brown, and blonde hair have turned white, or disappeared altogether. And they no longer have movie-star smiles, taut skin, or clear complexions.
Some may have been CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. And others might have been janitors, housewives, or musicians. But whatever their vocation, education, or social status was, by the time they find themselves in a skilled nursing facility, what they have left is their spirit. That intangible piece of their being that makes up the essence of who they are.
I have seen residents whose mental faculties were so debilitated by Alzheimer’s that they didn’t know their own reflection in a mirror, yet sweetness and gentleness emanated from them. And I have also seen patients that were just as demented, whose rancid demeanor oozed bitterness.
There are residents who are totally out of their conscious mind, unaware of who or what is going on around them, yet their spirit is so pure, that staff and stranger alike are drawn to them. Likewise, there are residents, who have such a cold, spiteful way about them that none care to go near them.
And so, in my own observation, and in talking to others in healthcare, I have concluded that people become what they most put into themselves. Whatever they fed their soul with, is what pours out of them when they are at the point in their life that they can no longer keep their filters intact. Whatever oil they put in their lamp in life is what they draw from in death.
In other words, what we feed on in life, we chew on in death.
If we are kind in life, we will be kind in death.
If we are malicious in life, we will be malicious in death.
If we are fearful in life, we will be fearful in death.
If we are selfish in life, we will be selfish in death.
If we are considerate in life, we will be considerate in death.
So the question becomes, what kind of person do we want to be?
If today, all of our filters and guards were stripped away, and the world could look inside our thought life, our inner reactions/actions, what would they reveal about us? What would the diet of our minds reveal to others about ourselves? Do we chew on pride, gorge on false teaching, and have a late night snack of selfishness? Or do we feast on love, joy, peace and the word of God?
It’s something I think about often as I intermingle with so many who no longer have the ability to choose to keep the lesser part of themselves hidden.
And so I wonder: What will I be like? Will I be kind, even if I don’t know my own name anymore? Will there be oil in my lamp? Have I fed enough on the fruits of the Spirit, and the Word of God? If at the end of my life, I end up in one of these facilities, huddled in a wheelchair, and don’t know who I am anymore, will my spirit be beautiful? Will I have made enough good choices, and deposited enough of God’s fruits into my soul that they emanate from me, without any conscious effort? Will my witness during the last season of my life burn just as bright and clear as it did when I first found Christ? Will my children still find the person I portrayed myself to be even if my mental faculties are gone?
These are the things I ponder. And these are the things that give me pause.