In which Claire meets with the Hills
“You’re looking better than you did yesterday, Bill.”
“Thanks, Claire; Gladys bought me a new cleanser and it’s doing wonders for my skin.”
“Darling, I think I like you better with the oxygen mask on.”
Bill, Gladys, and Claire were settled comfortably in Bill’s hospital room, Bill in the bed, Gladys in the chair next to the bed, and Claire sitting along the window. It was a cold, rainy day, the kind that gets under your skin, and Claire was grateful for the warmth in the room.
“How are the girls doing?”
“Well, Meri is being her usual self, making lists, taking care of things, dead-heading the geraniums and putting soup in the freezer and generally dealing with all the stuff to do. Junie has tears in her eyes all the time, and gives us hugs and rubs Glad’s shoulders and tells me all the things she learned from me. Mind and heart, our two daughters. They’re okay. My declining health is hard on all of us.”
The doctor came in, petite in her scrubs, efficient and warm. With her was the hospice nurse, larger and looser but just as warm as the doctor.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hill, I’m Carolyn Walters. I work with hospice and I’m here to talk with you about some options that you have.” She turned to Claire. “Are you their daughter?”
“No, I’m their pastor. Claire Grayson. Bill and Gladys asked me to come to the meeting.”
“Oh, that’s great. We believe the spiritual part of the journey is as important as the physical. Welcome to the team, Pastor Grayson.”
The palliative care team met with Bill and Gladys and Claire for about an hour, talking about options and hopes and plans. It was a good meeting, and ended with a fair amount of Kleenex in the wastebasket. When the doctor and nurse left, Claire asked Bill and Gladys if there was anything they needed.
“Claire dear, I think we just need to absorb all of this. You’ve been a saint. If you don’t mind asking, how are things with Emma?” Gladys asked.
“Well, stable for the moment. It’s a long story but now is not the time. I continue to be more grateful than I can say to the two of you.”
Bill spoke up. “Claire, I’m feeling pretty useless these days, but if I can do anything, I am more than happy to. I pray for you and Emma every night, if that makes a difference.”
“It does, Bill, it does. I’ll leave you two and check in tomorrow. Get some rest.”
“Thanks again, Claire. We love you.”
“I love you too.”
Claire went into the office and gave Trystene and Bill Carr the update, then started her Monday routine. She checked email, looked at meetings for the week, then turned her attention to Sunday and the sermon. She thought about Clement’s prayer, and the strong soap of truth, and the way Jesus told the truth about God and himself and people and the powers. She thought about the arc of Lent, and the invitation she had issued on Ash Wednesday. She thought about the role of truth, and lies, in her own life and relationships. And then she knew what she had to do.
“Alice? It’s Claire. I wonder if you have anytime to talk this week.”
“Of course, dear; your schedule is far more complicated than mine.”
“I’m not sure about that, but it’s kind of you to say. Would tomorrow morning work, at church, 10ish?”
“That sounds fine, dear. See you then.”
Claire called the hospital and spoke briefly with Gladys. Bill was fine, getting a transfusion, and they were both resting as best they could. Claire said she would stop by the next day, which Gladys said was perfect.
Martha came by – without Toledo – for dinner that night, and had them in stitches within minutes. Emma made a new and improved batch of chocolate/peanut butter/salted caramel brownies for Claire to take to Bill the next day. Martha pronounced them heaven in a pan, and with that benediction, Emma went upstairs to work on her homework.
After they heard Emma shut her door, then two began to talk in earnest.
“So, Claire, how are you – really?”
“So really I’m doing okay. I love Lent so much and the themes and introspection of it are really helping me. I still get nervous leaving Emma home alone, but this is just something we have to work through. I’m pretty sure I will never go on a date again, but I cannot imagine one more thing in my life.
“I’m so sad about Bill Hill but so – what’s the word – inspired? grateful? by the way the family is dealing with this. And I’ve made a decision. A big decision.”
“You’re going to look for a new church.”
“You’re going to quit ministry and become a yoga instructor.”
“You’re – oh hell, I have no idea. Tell me.”
“I’m going to tell the congregation about the saints.”
Silence descended like an anvil dropped from the 40th floor.
“Claire, you can’t do that.”
“Yes I can.”
“No, really, you can’t. It won’t work if people know about it. The big reason we’re successful is because people have no idea they’re being helped.”
“Martha, that is bullshit and you know it. The big reason you’re successful is because all of you are committed to this, and are deeply kind and courageous, and you stick with it. Secrecy is the least of your weapons. And, in fact, I think it’s hurting you.
“Look at what lying does. Look at how it’s affected our friendship. Look at how it’s affected the church staff. Look at what my lies did to Emma. Lying is not good.
“It’s time the saints came into the light.”
“You are so new to this you have no idea what we do, and how secrecy has been our friend in all of this. You will ruin the Saints, Claire. We need a vote on this.”
“No, we don’t need a vote on this. You are more than welcome to tell Toledo tonight, and I’m going to tell Alice about my decision tomorrow. I’m sure you already know I’ve told Trystene, and, for your information, things are a lot better between her and Bill Carr now. They actually collaborate on things.”
“It’s not your decision to make, Claire.”
“With all due respect, Martha, it is my decision to make. There is a secret group meeting in the church where I am pastor and it is my decision. You’re not going to change my mind about this.”
“You’re making a huge mistake.”
“I’ll take that chance. Now, are we done? Can we stop talking about this, or do you want to leave? Because I’d really love the scoop on you and Toledo.”
“Shit. Why do you have to be my best friend?”
“I guess I’m just your cross to bear. Now tell me: when’s the wedding?”
“We’re not there yet, but….”