Endings and Beginnings

By Tina Bolt

Tina came to Joseph’s House in the fall of 2011 through the Mennonite Voluntary Service. Following her year as a full-time volunteer, Tina joined the staff as a resident care aide. She’ll be spending the summer with her family in Michigan before heading to Portland, Oregon, for her next adventures.

EXIF_JPEG_T422Endings and beginnings are the breath of Joseph’s House. That front door with the golden knob has opened and closed to so many different lives; it has ushered in new, lively volunteer bodies, and ushered out the weak and fragile bodies of residents who have passed.

Joseph’s House has been a place of rest, frustration, exhaustion, energy, and of great learning for me these past two years. The lessons have come from living in the heart of life and death. On one of my last evenings I sat at the large wooden table with my dear friend, Sarah. She had lived at Joseph’s House my first year and had become well enough to move out. Her friendship to me the past two years gave me great peace and comfort through my time at Joseph’s House and living in the District of Columbia. She gave me companionship when I felt extremely alone, a listening ear when I needed it, and a contagious laugh just at the right moments. In order to remain transparent I want to say she is also an extremely frustrating woman at times too – I’m not saying this for the art of comparison, but to truly and simply say that she is an extremely frustrating woman. She gets angry with me, gives me the cold shoulder, and becomes so obsessive with one thing that we cannot talk about  anything else, and in it all she is a solid friend to me…always herself and always straight forward.

She is a religious woman and finds great strength in a relationship with God, something I relate to but do not experience in the same way. As she took a deep breath in that evening, she sighed a refreshing praise of, “Thank you Jesus for my health,” which I also echoed in my mind. I love her so much and am grateful that she can take those deep breaths and sighs. I’m thankful that a year ago I could help move her and her stuff out to an apartment rather than accompanying her body on a stretcher out of that front door with the golden door knob. She was looking at the mantel of all the names of people who had passed away recently and she was crying. She is a woman of great strength, and stamina – she does not cry easily unless her heart has been deeply wounded. I reflected on her and the experience of always walking the line of her health. She is extremely obsessive compulsive with her health, which can hinder her, but often allows her to advocate for herself in a beautiful way.

As we sat at that dining room holding in our hearts our friends whose names sat upon the mantel, another resident, Andrew, came to join us. He shuffled in and sat across from Sarah. Andrew to my right and Sarah to my left. He crossed his arms on the table and slightly hung his head.  His eyes were closed and his eyebrows said, “pain” – not physical pain, but emotional pain.

EXIF_JPEG_T422Every feature on him was so engaging – I grabbed a pen and sketched him as we all sat with one another. Sarah continued to speak of her gratitude for her health, Andrew spoke to his impending death, and I continued to sketch. Out of her feisty, fighter, natural advocating spirit, she said to him in deep concern, “No!  No!  No! You have to try everything – go to the doctor!  Don’t give up. Are they giving you the right medicines? Are they giving you the wrong medicines?  Don’t let them mess you up.” (I was unclear who “them” was, but I assumed it was coming from enough interaction with bad health care providers, creating a “they”, or seeing so many friends and family pass). He so gently said to her, “Sweetheart, I’ve tried everything and now I just gotta live my life until it ends. I’m happy here.  I’m satisfied.” So much sorrow and contentment spoken from him all at once.

To sit between these two individuals was the summary of my experience at Joseph’s House.

Living and dying.

Death is difficult, and life is difficult as well. All we can do is be ourselves through it all – to open ourselves up to the lessons that present themselves. I have come to realize that I am no one special for having worked at a hospice home, I have no better heart than anyone else – in fact I have learned quite the opposite. I have seen my demons, I have seen my anger, I have seen my frustration and I have been greeted by people like Andrew and Sarah who engage me no matter what, because we all have the capacity of good and bad within ourselves – Sarah especially has shown me that, and she has continued to pour out love upon me. I have been broken and exhausted this year – not always originating from interaction with death, but truly living and feeling who I am – and being exhausted from what I see within myself at times.

There is a heartbeat of Joseph’s House and it is one that continues to beat with or without me, with or without you. It breathes in new beginnings and breathes out endings – whether that be physical life or the personal interactions of life. This has been my ending with Joseph’s House and I take in that deep breath and breathe it out into all that lies before me.


  1. Robert Bolt says

    Tine, I’m proud of you. You’ve had a wonderful learning situation. You have treated people with dignity, respect, and love which is the Jesus thing to do! Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Love you, Dad

  2. Pam Prather says

    I have loved watching you grow the last couple of years. You have opened your heart and left part of it at Joseph’s House. I will miss seeing your smiling face– enter emoticon here!

  3. Bill Burns says

    Your spirit and infectious smile have been a gift to us all. I know that you will continue to be a gift to all with whom you share your life.

  4. Lissa Schwander says

    Tina, this is beautiful. You are special and have the heart that you have not because you lived at Joseph’s House but because that is how God made you. We all have demons and we all get frustrated and we all get angry but you are indeed a special young woman with a heart that overflows with love for others. That’s who you are and those of us who know you, including those you have cared for at Joseph’s House, are blessed to get some of that. You are special! Love, Lissa

Share Your Thoughts