I was having a  cup of coffee just now, enjoying the quiet after sunrise and listening to the carers quietly getting bathing trolleys ready and making tea for our special people. My eye caught the security camera screens and I watched our guest from the DRC open his door. He is tall, with ebony brown skin and chiselled features. I watched him with his walker, slowly making his way from one screen to the next on my computer and he settled on the screen where the camera overlooking the parking lot is focused. I was fascinated. Why is he there? Why did he not call a carer if he wanted to go for an early walk? Actually I was wondering why he was up at all, as we all know that Mr Archambault usually sleeps late. Sometimes he only wakes up at 11:00 for his physio sessions. I decided to go and talk to him to make sure everything was okay, but before I got to him, I could smell why he was standing where he was… he was smoking a joint! Suddenly so much about our French-speaking patient made sense! No wonder he slept so much. No wonder he ordered entire cakes from Dash and just about inhaled them in a matter of minutes. It was not an incredible appetite, it was the munchies!


Mr Archambault was in an ghastly car accident when his 4×4 ploughed  into a stationary truck and instead of professionals cutting him out and gently transferring him into an ambulance,  bystanders took it upon themselves to force his mutilated body out of the crumpled vehicle, hurting him much more. He was medivacked to SA where an incredible surgeon managed to put him back together. For the first weeks while he was in the country, his wife and brother remained in Johannesburg, but they had to go back after a while. The change in him was obvious once they left. He withdrew more and more each day, became depressed and was easily angered. Despite our love and attention, we are not his people or his tribe. We are created for community, to do life together, and in community, we thrive. Here in a strange country, with weird food and people speaking a different language, Mr. Archambault did not have the sense of belonging he would have had if he could have recovered in his home country. His recovery, although on track, is physically slower than it should be for a strong young guy in his 30’s. I believe it is because he is desperately lonely. We give him a huge amount of attention and try and cook meals that appeal to him. We organise social workers to talk to him, masseuse therapists, have given him manicures and we even take him out when he feels up to it, but as the days have become weeks and the weeks have become months, I know he feels more and more isolated. He needs his tribe to get over this last hurdle of recovery. I know he will get better. He is young and strong, but it is so much harder for those who are alone than those who have their pit crew around them, their joyful cheerleaders that encourage and comfort.


This last week I have had a strange sense of gratitude that time is linear and that we get to just experience a portion of emotion, in a bite-sized piece, one day or one hour at a time. I do not think we could bear the sorrow, the hurt or the joy if it were not digestible in little chunks of time.


Early one morning  last week I went to check in on a man my age who is with us for end-of-life care. His journey was challenging even before he got ill and now, at the end of his life, there are still many obstacles to overcome, obviously physically, but emotionally too. When I went to check on him, he was lying in the foetal position. Spooning him was his 18 year old daughter. Both of them were fast asleep and the room was filled with their rhythmic breathing and an almost tangible peace. The previous nights were so rough on him and we were anxious to let his young daughter spend the night. We knew time was limited and wanted them to have these special moments together, but we also knew that his disease is cruel and we did not know what an impact it would have on his daughter’s psyche. The last stages of death, especially in one so young, is harsh. As I looked at them I felt like an intruder disturbing this precious father-daughter-moment and I left the room without them knowing I was there. Later that morning I went to chat to them. His daughter was blowing on her coffee with her knees pulled up to her chest, dunking a rusk. They were comfortable in this space. He looked at me and said, “Thank you that she can sleep here. She has been my comfort”. His daughter spent the next few nights there too. We saw him grow stronger every day despite the fact that we all thought he would pass away over the weekend. How can one explain this? Did the temporal need to finish earthly conversations, ask forgiveness and show gratitude give him strength to live longer? Did he find strength to be a father for a tiny bit longer because of the unseen power of love? I’m filled with wonder that his daughter, who was overwhelmed and anxious at first when she saw her dad so emaciated and weak, is now relaxed, holding his hand and joking with him about the sharp edges in his gaunt face. Their bond has changed. He is no longer her protector, but she is his. She is lending him her courage to cross this final creek. Maybe her presence is allowing him to stay longer and to let go?


As much as we were created for community, we are also fully relational beings whether we are intro- or extroverted. We cannot do this life alone. It is a year tomorrow since my own father died. Another reason I am grateful for our linear time is that I could not carry the sorrow of missing him as much as I do in an environment outside of time. I can only carry this grief a little bit, minute by minute. Apart from the grace of  time, I also know that I could never do it alone. Missing my dad along with other people, knowing he was loved, knowing he made a difference, knowing he left a gaping hole in other’s lives too really matters. He mattered. His life mattered. It feels like yesterday, but also a hundred years ago that we made the decision to stop his physiotherapy,  to start the morphine and to stop fighting the inevitable. I could not have said goodbye to my dad in the gentle way we were able to if it was not for the army of fellowship surrounding me. It was as if years and years of building relationships came together and carried us over the threshold into a world of which he was no longer a part. Nothing money can buy, or influence, or power can make any difference once you are faced with the end of a life, and it is at this point that this realm’s life-works morph into the next. The only thing that matters is relationships; the people you can call that will sit with you, the people who can mourn with you. On the day of the funeral, a friend showed up to blow dry my hair. It was such an incredibly simple act, but I often think of the impact it had on me. She just arrived and stepped in to my room. We did not have to have deep moving conversations. She just gently dried my hair, often resting her hand on my shoulder, letting me rest in her presence, telling me she loves me in her gentle actions. Her presence in my space was a reminder that I don’t have to do this alone.


Rabbi Steve Ladder from New York said the most intimate moment in his marriage was when he changed the dressings for his wife after her mastectomy. Those quiet acts of love we show each other just by being there, doing the small things, the mundane, is really where it is at. Lying next to your dad while he is fighting a disease, drying your friend’s hair when life is hard, driving your sister to chemo, holding someone’s hair while they vomit, still showing up even though it is easier not to… it is in those brutal moments of embracing our own vulnerability and brokenness that we feel most alive and totally accepting of what it is like to be completely human with our simultaneous incredible power and complete weakness.