‘It good’: Hospitality in a hospital waiting room

Andrew Taylor-Troutman reflects on the care, life and grief he witnessed as the life of a parishioner came to an end.

Photo by Ryland Dean on Unsplash

I mean no disrespect to the faithful chaplains and hard-working administrations and certainly not to the nurses, who are nearer to the heart of God than me, by noting the incongruence between “hospital” and “hospitality” — which share a lexical root. Despite the wonderful people who work and volunteer there, hospital buildings are imposing, the halls labyrinthine, and the rooms sterile with sharp angles and harsh lighting. Hospital gowns are scratchy and unflattering. The food is terrible, and sometimes even worse. Every patient I’ve known has been impatient to leave a hospital. One would not say such things about a place of hospitality.

But years ago, I was serving a rural congregation when one of our venerable members suffered a major stroke. In the county hospital, doctors determined that there was nothing more that could be done. Nothing medically, that is. Palliative care took over, and extended family came from all over the country to say goodbye. They filled the waiting room, not only with their bodies. They brought donuts and coffee in the morning, sandwich platters, fruit, and chips at lunch, and casseroles at suppertime. I remember the chicken one with cornflakes on top and also a crock pot filled with meatballs.

There was a gracious plenty to eat, and they were gracious indeed. The waiting room began to swell with people not in the family or church family. There were young mothers cradling babies. Elderly men leaning on canes. Teenagers with hair in their eyes and headscarf-wrapped chemotherapy patients. Nurses and doctors changing shifts. Janitors and night-watchmen. Spanish olé-d and two-stepped with Southern drawls. Family, friends, and new friends laughed until they cried and cried until they laughed.

As per hospital policy, only two people at a time were allowed into the room of the man who was dying. So, after their turn to visit, family members would return to the waiting room, grab a snack or drink from the smorgasbord, then join a card game or conversation about college basketball. When she returned from her husband’s side, the soon-to-be widow was welcomed with hugs and helped to a chair. Someone’s baby was placed in her lap for cuddles. She cried and cooed and laughed and was silent. Surveying the scene late one afternoon as we drank coffee, a son-in-law commented, more to himself, “Sure seems like church, don’t it?”

The morning before my parishioner died, his namesake and great-grandson toddled across the waiting room, squeezing a ripe strawberry in each fist, juicing his fingers, and stopping to declare to each person, whether a family member or stranger, “It good. It good.”

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