Southern Storm

A Reflection on AIDS Hospice Work

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What will happen to us today is completely unknown, as unknown as what will happen at death. Whatever happens, it is our commitment to awaken our heart. - Pema Chodron

I spent one year in Houston, Texas working at an AIDS hospice. I lived in a house with six others who were working at various other non-profit organizations. The work broke us down to the core and we were forced to shed many layers in the presence of one another. It was a vulnerable time in which our true colors came forth.

Sometimes, the thunderstorms that boiled up in the Texas heat were the only things powerful enough to calm us in the midst of what seemed like such personal chaos. We would sit on the porch during the rains. It was as if there was a clear barrier set between the platform on which we rested and the world that quickly saturated with water flooding from the sky. We were protected from the rain, but we could feel the dampness as it permeated everything. The warm breeze drew us in. We were just onlookers, gazing, silenced by the slight twinge of fear, excitement and awe that a southern storm can bring. It was a time in our lives when we had an opinion about everything, always something to be said or processed. But the rain had a way of making the world quiet. The way we looked out at the rainy street before us is much like the way we lived for the year. We became drenched with pain and perspective, yet remaining slightly protected as volunteers. Eyes glazed over, we dove in as strangers into the unknown and we left changed forever.

The hospice in which I worked offers housing for eight individuals who are suffering and dying from AIDS. It is a home for the last days. Even three years later, I can still smell the mixed scents of fried cooking, bleach, and Windowsickness that permeated the humid air. I feel strangled by the knots in my throat that are tangled by the images of men and women who exist once again as infants. They are so weak; they disintegrate in front of my eyes. I see death. We are dying. They smile through the pain, but sometimes they yell. This disease takes over and it simply, slowly exhausts the body. The body begins as a powerful machine, but it just gets too tired trying to fight. It becomes so fragile and finally bids farewell. Sacred is that space in which the last breath is taken. It is shallow and then it is gone.

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                                                                                                                                                       Lindsay Leeder, Krista Colleague class of 2002 and Board Member, is a graduate of Seattle University with a Bachelors of Science in General Science and a Bachelors of Arts in Theology. After graduating in 2002, she served in Houston, Texas as a Jesuit Volunteer in an AIDS hospice at Bering Omega Community Services. She recently passed her Washington State Nursing boards and is currently pursuing a Masters of Science at Seattle University to become a family nurse practitioner.

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