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I was a neophyte in mental health nursing when I met Henry nearly twenty years ago. When introduced to him, I saw an angry man of about fifty. His dark eyes blazed in a flushed face, as he ranted and raved about being victimized by the system. I wasn't sure how to respond as Henry demanded more and better services.

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I was just developing my caseload of clients, and Henry was assigned to me. We met monthly so I could monitor his medication and provide support between his visits with the psychiatrist. Over time, I came to realize that Henry responded best to a quiet, supportive presence. He was painfully shy, with poor self-esteem, but, in time, he saw me as an ally.


Henry was a thin, dark-haired man whose skin took on a shiny appearance. Injured many years earlier in an occupational accident, he had some physical infirmities. He described his legs as feeling stiff and painful, and that's how he moved-without flexibility.


Henry was guarded and lacked confidence, sure only that the world was against him. Gradually, with time and trust, he began to tell me his story.


A single man, Henry was the oldest of ten children. He described a mother who sounded emotionally unstable, and he said little about his father. Henry felt he had been picked on in school and humiliated in the army. He was frightened of everyone and everything. When speaking of his siblings, he indicated minimal contact.


Our professional relationship at the mental health center lasted for eight years. During this time, I had the opportunity to gently ask Henry about his spiritual beliefs. He believed in God, but not necessarily as a loving Father, and he considered himself utterly unlovable. When Henry seemed open to another view, I shared my belief in a loving God and that Henry was his beloved child. Though doubtful, Henry seemed to like the sound of this.


Gradually I introduced him to simple booklets about Christianity and gave him monthly devotional guides. These did not preach to him but reminded him of God's love. He subscribed to the periodicals on his own and continued to read them.


When I left mental health nursing, Henry was introduced to another counselor, with whom he was to meet on a regular basis. I transitioned into parish nursing. One day during my hospital rounds, I found Henry on a medical unit. After reconnecting with him, I felt led by God to include him in my visits to shut-ins.


Henry had few visitors, yet he welcomed me with as much warmth as he could muster. His little apartment was crowded with ugly, dust-covered trinkets and heavy furniture. My eyes searched for one pretty item, but there was none. Henry believed in limit, and his home reflected his belief system.


We sat at his kitchen table and chatted while he drank numerous cups of black coffee and smoked cigarette after cigarette. His fingers were gold-stained from chain smoking. Eventually I asked Henry if he would consider not smoking during my visits. He was willing to comply, which I appreciated.


Over time, I saw subtle changes in Henry. Now and then he would venture to the library, and he attempted to do some drawing. Conversation revealed that he talked to God regularly. And, when I suggested it, he found a picture of himself as a young boy and expressed loving thoughts to this child he had been. It seemed that healing was occurring inside this man.


My career changed, and I didn't see or hear from Henry for several years. Then one day, I made my hospital visits and again found him on a medical unit, this time being treated for lung cancer. He was pale and bald. Although he had difficulty talking, Henry tried to bring me up-to-date on his life.

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He had moved from the city into a nearby town and now resided in a small apartment complex, where neighbors had befriended him. His family was supportive, and their relationships had improved and deepened. Although perhaps too late to benefit his deteriorating physical condition, Henry had stopped smoking. He was more quiet and, even in his illness, a certain peacefulness prevailed.


Some weeks later, Henry was again hospitalized. Just before Valentine's Day, I slipped into a chair next to his bedside. He was on nasal oxygen, and his breathing was labored. I held his hand as we talked. Henry shared that his family had been supportive, and he knew that they loved him.


When the nurse helped him sit to take his pain medication, I asked if he would like me to put lotion on his back. This man, who probably allowed few to touch him, readily agreed. He seemed to relax. Noting his dry, callused feet, I asked permission to put lotion on them as well, and this too he allowed. Henry settled back into his pillow and closed his eyes. I asked if I could pray with him, and he put out his hand. United in this way, we said The Lord's Prayer together.


"Henry, God loves you. You know that, don't you?" I asked.


"Yes, Pat, I know he does."


Shortly after, he thanked me for coming, and we shared our goodbyes. I wondered how long Henry would live.


Henry's name appeared in the obituaries the next day. I was in awe that I had been called to spend precious time with him shortly before his death, and I thanked God for the experience. God, however, was not ready to put closure to my connection with Henry.


I went to the viewing. As I stood at the casket, looking into his peace-filled face, a woman came and stood next to me. She introduced herself as Henry's sister. I explained who I was and told her that I had known him as a parish nurse. Seven more women circled around us, all sisters of Henry. They were eager to hear about the time I had spent with their brother. Henry had died about two hours after I'd left him, and none of the family was present.


The sisters then asked me to share my experience with their only remaining brother, who sat nearby looking sad. I asked if they would like to pray with me, and we formed a circle. We prayed in unison, "Our Father, who art in heaven. [horizontal ellipsis]" It felt right that the people who had most cared for Henry were together, connected in loving prayer. I felt closure; my friend had gone home.