Jim Gustafson, MDiv
Fort Myers, Florida, United States
Poet’s statement: “Hospice House” reflects on a time recently spent in the lobby of our local hospice facility, as I visited with a good friend named Wilma.
“Psychosocial” reflects on the most recent events of Wilma’s life as she, who very much hates to fly, flew to visit her daughter. Upon returning, her condition rapidly declined. She was admitted to hospice care. I think it should remind everyone what most hospice workers know: there is much more to our decline than is captured in the body.
Wilma, on morphine, feels little pain
She is miles away from herself
Even further from her children
Who have grown into their own scars.
Their mother is an inconvenient journey
A historic marker commemorating indecisive battles
The kind that make wars winless.
Wilma, nearing ninety recalls,
Cranks on phones, fountain pens,
Beer in buckets, and when all cars were black.
She has lived through many wars,
The world’s and her own
Alone, she faces an enemy once more
This time with heavy arms
Limping forward to the fight
Just a week, or was it two, ago?
She faced her fears and flew
To see her daughter, as if by instinct
Migrating back. On the plane,
She smiled at the flight attendants,
Held her breath, prayed all the way
Wishing her children had come to her
Just once through the years,
When the week was over,
Flying back home
Wilma was almost too tired to pray
Slowly letting go a sigh or two
Eyes closed as she dozed
As one does when hard work is done
This trip was, she knew, important to do
The polite back and forth all visit long
The unspoken forgiving
For all done wrong
When she got home, Wilma found
Everything just as she left it. Then came
A kind of pain she had never known.
She’s moved into her final room
Where she is free to go
About what’s left of her life's work
Finish all she started long ago
And move on
In the lobby
Where people come
To die well
They wheel in,
The same way
They wheel out
Though, coming in
Faces are not covered
Going out they are
Head to toe
In a sky-blue
Velvet bag with a zipper
Rolling down the long hall
Feet first is protocol
Toward the EXIT sign
Above the door
(the irony of fire codes)
There is a whisper
Clear but faint
In the slight squeak
Of a gurney's left front wheel
“I'm glad that's over.
It wasn't so bad.
Tell my Ella I'm sorry,
Don’t be sad.
There's food in the fridge.
Don't forget to cancel my phone.
Everything looks . . .”
The body pusher pushes
A chrome square on the wall
The glass doors swing open
And that is all
JIM GUSTAFSON, MDiv was born in Chicago and now lives in Fort Myers, Florida. He graduated from Florida Southern College with honors in philosophy and received his master’s of divinity from Garrett Theological Seminary at Northwestern University. Ordained in the United Methodist Church, he has served as a local church pastor, conference leader, pastoral counselor, and hospice director/educator. For 30 years, he worked as a broadcasting executive and a management and sales consultant. He is married, has two children and three granddaughters, and now reads, writes, and pulls weeds.