I say the names, over and over, as I stuff envelopes with letters asking families to tell us their story of hospice care or send a donation to help pay for community grief counseling programs. I name the living as I work, all the while thinking of the dead. I feel embraced by a cloud of witness as I move from letter to letter, swallowed up by a cloud of sorrow and of grace.
I work in fundraising at Hosparus, the regional hospice provider. We offer quality end-of-life care from Louisville south as far as Bowling Green and north into Indiana. Our teams include medical staff, personal care associates, social workers and chaplains. We serve nearly 900 people every day. We order walkers and wheel chairs, call in prescription refills, help with bathing and, at the end, call the funeral home. Our volunteers sit with the dying because no one should die alone.
The work of our caregivers astounds me. I sit at a computer most days. It seems so easy compared to caring for the dying. They say the work is rewarding and life-giving, yet I know of a nurse who lost five patients in one week. How do they do it?
As I read the names on the envelopes I stuff, I remember that they are people who have lost loved ones: mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, partners, friends and neighbors. Each living name points the way to one who was lost.
And so I name them as I work, on and on, in endless spreadsheets, on endless envelopes and — always and forever, living and dead — in countless hearts.