A Smile That Melts Your Heart

An outing to the Mall

Chrisann enjoys an outing to the Mall

Walking past Chrisann’s room, I saw that the lights were off and a low gray light bathed the room on a rainy, stormy afternoon. Ann and Pat, our two nurses, were both sitting quietly. That struck me as unusual. If I see them together in a resident’s room they are usually busy, cleaning or adjusting someone in the bed, or trying to understand a troubling symptom or stubborn pain. But I could see that at this moment they were both very still. Pausing at the threshold, I waited until Ann acknowledged my presence and told Chrisann that I was at the door – a sign to me that it was ok to enter.

I said my hellos and Chrisann moved her legs and invited me to sit on the bed. Though she had been at Joseph’s House for over a month, our relationship – and Chrisann’s relationship with most of the community – had started to bloom in the past week or so. In those first weeks she had stayed mostly in her room, sleeping and withdrawn, not wanting to venture much downstairs or outside. As she would tell us this afternoon, she had been leery of us, of the house. “You know I did not want to come here,” she said. “At first,” she told the nurses, “I was afraid of you.”

Her fear was understandable. In her mid-thirties, she is weakened by end-stage cancer. Like most of our residents, she had never heard of Joseph’s House before she was referred to us, and it all must have seemed so sudden and so strange to her, such an unwelcome next step in her life.

ChrisannIn the past week, though, she has blossomed, coming to the table at mealtimes, going for walks, visiting with others on the back deck, and joining group outings. She banters playfully at the table and her bright smile will melt your heart – at least it does mine, and I can see that it does for others as well. Earlier in the week when I found some old Joseph’s House t-shirts cleaning out our office, I offered her one and she beamed, grateful for this small, unexpected gift. My spirit lifts every time I see her, so glad for her smile, so pleased that she has come to be at ease and engaged in community life.

When I came upon her room yesterday, the nurses were sitting with her after working to address a bout of her pain. She said it was continuing to subside as we sat in the stillness. “It’s this peacefulness I love so much,” she told us.

She looked at Ann and said, “When she touches me, I feel at peace.” She paused, then looking at Pat, she said, “When she smiles at me, I light up.” She paused again, then looking at me and said, “When he says, ‘I love you,’ I just lift right up.” She reached out and took Pat’s hand and mine. With a bit of impishness, she confessed her previous uneasiness with being at the house and her gratitude for being here now. “I am just so thankful that you are taking care of me, that you know how to take care of me. I feel so much better being here with you now.”

Smiling, I said that I, too, felt much better being with her now. I had entered the room very cranky about the chaos of our office move this week, a bad mood exacerbated by hours of driving rain. Sitting with her open heart, it all melted away.

She continued, “I know I am dying, and that’s ok. If I die today, I will die happy.” The love and gratitude she felt for us – and that we felt for her – was palpable. “My heart was just bursting with love and gratitude,” Ann recalled when I asked her about her emotions in that moment.

My visit ended when my phone rang with a call about the move. Before taking my leave, Chrisann and I kissed cheek to cheek to cheek, European style, and I told her once again that I loved her. I so wanted to give her a big hug to embrace her spirit as well, but I dared not risk causing her any pain. I thought of her the rest of afternoon, and was glad to hear later that she had rallied and joined a big group for a trip to the movies.

On most days, grace finds its way to Joseph’s House, but the time the four of us shared yesterday was a rare gift, an “incredible moment,” said Ann. As Pat noted later, it was as if we were sitting at Chrisann’s bedside speaking directly with God.



  1. Jean Hennessey says

    This is so beautiful, Scott. What a gift–Joseph’s House, you, Chrisann, the whole gestalt. Happy days and peace to all at Joseph’s House.

    Love from western NY!

  2. Linda Crowe says

    Lovely, Scott. Thanks so much for sharing this. xoxo

  3. I am very hopeful I get to meet some of the people who reside at Joseph house at the Alston Gillard awards I am so happy I can be helping Steven with such an amazing organization

    • Scott Sanders says

      Tyra — We are so looking forward to the Oasis Dance Company gala and awards ceremony and are grateful for the support. Thank you for helping make it a success!

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