Julian Jimenez Ospina (second from the left above), a Transition Year student in Clongowes Wood College, spent a week working at Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services, after which he wrote quite a thought-provoking reflection…
I arrived at Our Lady’s Hospice with a joyful heart and a smile on my face, signed into the student logbook, got my name-badge and put my bag and coat into a locker. Jimmy, who was in charge of volunteers, was in the office and I greeted him before getting to work. I washed my hands well and headed over to the crossroads to help take the residents to Mass. Mass is the highlight to their day, a privilege that the world misses out on. Two volunteers take a bell and a chalice each to deliver Jesus to those in the wards unable to make it to Mass. Afterwards, I prepared the trolley with tea, coffee and biscuits. This is always a nice part of the day as we say hello to everyone and bring refreshments to their rooms.
The next day, after Mass, I went to the wards to chat with the residents and be their company. The afternoon activity was Sonas, an activity for residents who have memory impairments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. The hour-long session aims to prevent further problems with memory by getting lots of senses involved. The residents watch the volunteers as they dance around the room, listen to songs as well as doing sing-alongs and getting to sing songs from their youth. A volunteer then walks around with a rose or herb so everyone gets to smell it. Then small pieces of chocolate are passed around for tasting. The residents then get maracas and tambourines to hold and shake in their hands to make some noise.
Lots of residents had visitors next morning, which is always great to see as it adds to the beauty of the day, while the afternoon’s activity was organised by the occupational therapists. The next morning the priest couldn’t come because he was away and so we had a prayer service instead where the readings were still said, the psalms were sung and the already consecrated hosts were distributed by volunteers. Margot, one of the volunteer coordinators, told me that there was a film crew who were trying to create a short film for the Bealtaine festival and that they needed help carrying some of their equipment around. The crew joked that I was getting a social placement and work experience at once since I was working with them.
On my last day, one of the volunteers ran a music class while the film crew recorded the activity. After my break, I was told there was an optional talk for staff and volunteers in the lecture hall about diversity in the workplace. The film crew was still here and they said they needed a hand because they were going to record some shots of people in the Church doing different things. They finished in about an hour and thanked the Hospice for letting them record there. I said my goodbyes, thanked Jimmy and Margot for letting me come here for the week and went home.
The week in Our Lady’s Hospice made me very happy and very sad. Everyone is very kind in the hospice and I really think the residents appreciate it. The best thing the residents can avail of in the Hospice is the Eucharist at daily Mass because it is the source and summit of the Christian life. But after that, the residents return to their rooms and have to spend the day doing what would cause my death if I had to do it: watching TV all afternoon. I wouldn’t be able to bear it and it made me very sad to see this. I wondered where they found meaning in life as they approached the end of their earthly lives. I knew by the time I came back again, some would be dead. An entire lifetime had led up to these moments and I thought at that moment of all the people whose lives were heading towards the end.
It’s a typical characteristic of the younger generations in general to have a delusional sense that they are going to live happily forever and end up wasting thousands of hours on futile attempts at lasting happiness, seeking only fame, money and entertainment. I find myself in agreement with Juvenal, the Roman poet, when he said panem et circenses, meaning ‘bread and circuses’. What he meant was that the general public constantly have their attention diverted by entertainment they like and petty issues such as their wages, and so we all become blinded to the most important questions and issues of humanity. I would even take this further and dare to say that we have conformed too much to the poor standards and subtle lies of the world that we have neglected our greatest needs of unfailing love and ultimate meaning.
The answer has been in front of our noses since we were born but because of hypocrisy in the world, the ultimate truth humans that seek has been made dangerously flippant. And what saddened me as a result is that all those who were dying in the hospice knew the truth, but I suspected that many had fallen asleep to it. Similarly to what Søren Kierkegaard once said, the saddest thing we see is when people settle for a level of despair they can tolerate and call it ‘happiness’. We all seek the truth and happiness, but we have yet to realise it. We have it in our mouths but we have yet to taste it. But some people are tasked with repeating the truth until someone listens.
The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only he gives the fullness of life to humanity! With Mary, say your own “yes” to God, for he wishes to give himself to you.” – Pope Benedict XVI