A Visit from a Teacher and Friend

Frank with group“How do you deal with so many losses?” Frank Ostaseski asked a group of Joseph’s House volunteers, residents and staff gathered in our living room on a bright spring morning.

Neisha, one of our year-long volunteers, reflected on her cultural tradition of strong connections to the ancestors. It doesn’t stop the pain of loss, she said, but it does bring comfort.

IMG_8505Tommy, one of our residents, said that he was just grateful for each day and that he awoke in the morning looking forward to seeing the smiles of his caregivers. Frank asked him if he thought that maybe they too awoke looking forward to seeing him.

Frank is a teacher, mentor and friend to Joseph’s House and each time he visits is a gift. Last week he was passing through on his way to teach at a hospice in Virginia and he came to spend the morning with us. Loss and grief are never far from our lives at Joseph’s House, but Frank sensed the special tenderness that was in the air all morning.


The day before he arrived, we had experienced an unusual loss for us. Ajax, one of our dogs, died. She actually “belonged” to Ann, one of our nurses, but she came to work with Ann every day and was very much a part of our lives together. She was often underfoot at the breakfast table and was known to curl up beside a resident who wasn’t feeling well. Ajax was our beloved friend, and just before we gathered with Frank in the living room, we had all memorialized her with a small service in our garden.

Earlier we’d had the opportunity to catch-up with Frank over breakfast and he had the chance to meet our current year-long volunteers. Around the table that morning, the sense of our collective loss mingled with the energy of welcoming a dear friend who only has the chance to visit the house every few years.

As he called us together after the service, Frank helped us turn toward the losses we face in a community where death is frequent and expected. As we shared our experiences with loss, we saw that our reactions varied, even within ourselves. There is no “right” way to react to these losses Frank reminded us. But there is common ground. Everyone faces losses and through them we can touch our shared humanity.

Frank was on a tight schedule and he very much wanted to squeeze in a visit to the cherry blossoms – bursting in their full glory – on his way out of town. He only had a few hours to spend with us that morning. And, yet, it was just enough.

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