This weekend my wife and I moved our kid from his crib to a big boy bed. The move was not well received. To the little guy, the bars of the crib were a comfort, something he could rely on to hold him up, to keep him safe as he slumbered, something he could depend on. Taking away his crib, while necessary, cut into his comfort, pared back his safety, and removed a sliver of his trust in this world. It was, perhaps, a first step on a road that can and often does lead to distrust and cynicism.

We are born dependent. Reliant on our caregivers for all things. It’s a good thing babies don’t know anything of the world they enter. It’s a good thing my son was ignorant to the fact that his crib was some cheap off-brand contraption, put together in haste by his father who is about as handy as a goldfish. More than the bed, it’s a good thing my son was born with no inkling of how petty I can be, how lazy and selfish. If he knew, how could he depend on me? If babies were born with a working knowledge of human weakness, childhood would be a terror of dependence without comfort, need without trust. It’s a good thing children are ignorant of human frailty. Our patients are not.

It is an audacious thing we ask of them, these newly dependent people from whom freedom and strength has been stolen. We ask them—not innocent children, but seasoned adults, often adults who have faced down the horrors of a normal life and the pain of a terminal illness—to depend on us, people whom they have never met before. And what’s amazing is that they do. We are welcomed as honored guests into strangers’ homes. The world, with all its problems, gives us little reason to trust each other, and so there is a touch of the divine and a hint of miracle in the way our patients and families receive us. Today, may we walk in reverence as pilgrims on holy ground, as servants at the temple of the bedside, and know the honor of being entrusted with another’s life and with another’s death.

Matt Holmes is a bereavement coordinator with Advocate Hospice, as well as a former chaplain with Family Hospice and Rainbow. This piece is an excerpt from his recently published work that explores and reflects on the experiences of caregivers and their loved ones.

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