Phe, Chapter 5: The Visitor

5: The Visitor

I’ve made my way to a small hospital in Vermont, this time the pediatric ward. Don’t worry, I’m not here for one of the young ones. I’m hovering in the hallway for the Visitor who soon will step off the elevator. I volunteered for this one. I was mentoring our new death presence, Genevieve, when she made a run for someone connected to him. Nine years have passed, which is  a mere moment for me but feels so long ago for him. Honestly, it feels like a long time ago for me too. I think I’m tired.

The elevator bell rings and out steps the Visitor, a large smile on his face as he carries his signature rainbow bag slung over his shoulder. Buttons cover the long multicolor handles with sayings like, “You got this!” “Your smile makes my day!” and “Dream and Believe.” I know that the bright shining smile he wears now only appeared as the doors opened. He limits himself to feeling his overwhelming sadness during the minute and a half elevator ride. Once those doors open, he becomes a different person. 

The blocked artery going to his heart should have killed him yesterday but he doesn’t know that. He’s a walking miracle. Those of us who have worked this hospital with him have watched anxiously. We wanted him to have more time for this last trip to the ward, this last half hour doing what he has loved. 

I float behind him and watch him work. Every week he comes to this hallway, bag in hand, to check on each patient. It’s a small hospital with a small pediatrics department. It doesn’t take long and usually the kids here aren’t terminal but recovering. The more serious cases are sent to the children’s hospitals in one of the bigger cities nearby. These kids have had tonsils removed, bad breaks set in casts, or are recovering from a bad case of the flu; things like that. 

The Visitor stops at the door of every room. He says a brief prayer of gratitude before he enters. Incredibly, this work brings him life and he is thankful to be here week in and week out. As he takes his first step into a room, the same smile returns to his face that first appeared as he stepped off the elevator. His voice rises to a mellifluous tone and the whole room brightens with his presence. He’ll spend a little time with each kid, telling them a joke and giving them a new stuffed animal. He always has the right one in his bag for each young patient. This is one of his gifts. When he packs before leaving the house, he looks at his inventory of miscellaneous toys and chooses exactly the ones the kids will want without knowing any of the children he’ll meet that day.

I watch him repeat his ritual seven times as he goes down the hallway today. The nurses pass and smile, thanking him for being there. On two of his stops, parents follow him into the hallway as he leaves their child’s room in order to shake his hand and tell him how much he has brightened their child’s day. He has made this place a little less frightening for all of them. He always smiles and nods, never saying a word. 

After he leaves the last room, he completes his ritual with a treat for himself: a trip to the vending machines tucked inside the family waiting room. Every week it’s the same. He looks at the machine, pretending to choose, as if he would buy anything other than the black and white snack cake wrapped in thin cellophane. He likes the way the icing coats the inside of his mouth, the same as it has helped coat the inside of his arteries all these years.

As he stands, staring at his choices, I see Genevieve arrive with a small soul. She has returned with the Visitor’s daughter, the soul she helped transition nine years ago. I join them, taking the other hand of the small soul, knowing she will be eager to go to her father’s spirit when the time comes. But these moments are unpredictable. I never know how these cases will play out. After the daughter left with Genevieve nine years ago, the parents couldn’t hold their lives together anymore. They divorced and the Visitor struggled to get out of bed in the morning, much less work. It wasn’t until he started these visits that his life began again, altered but with a new purpose.

I hear the Visitor press the buttons and know the moment has come. As the machine whirs to release his selection, his body starts to fall. The blockage has stopped the flow of blood to his heart and he collapses. His soul rips from his body before it even hits the floor. He can’t wait any longer to be free and restored. The threads stretch, then snap, in his eagerness as he lunges for his daughter. Genevieve and I let go and he snatches her soul up into his, both spirits intertwined in a dance of joy. It is nothing short of beautiful. Moments like these I almost sense what tears must feel like.

There’s really no work for us now. Genevieve supervises as the daughter helps the Visitor transition. There is only happiness here and ease, so I decide to stay in the waiting room, neatly folded in the form of a pamphlet on a table. I’m happier, too, but still tired. I watch as a member of the housekeeping staff finds the Visitor and cries out. Soon “Code Blue” echoes down the hallways from the intercom system and medical staff rushes in. All they know is how much they love and admire the Visitor and they want to help him any way they can. They don’t understand he is healed and more whole now than he has been in nine years.

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