A Story That Reminds Me of Why I am a Quaker and not a Baptist

“Ready for Jesus”, says Jeanie.

Jeanie had gone to her father’s church and asked to be baptized. Though it was a Baptist Church, they were not too friendly to her regarding baptism. She had never been to church much before she got sick. The pastor wanted her to jump through a bunch of hoops to prove that she was worthy. The tumor was so fast growing that Jeanie did not have the time for this contrition.

Jeanie was admitted to the hospital within a few days. I called a friend who is a Chaplain. After some discussion of Jeanie and the circumstances, Chaplain Ladd agreed to meet me at the hospital and baptize Jeanie.

Shortly after Jeanie was admitted to the hospital, I bought her a big study Bible and started the process to have her baptized at the hospital. I had to get permission from the hospital and Jeanie’s attending physician. The hospital wanted to approve only a “sprinkle” baptism, performed at the hospital bed. Chaplain Ladd insisted that he could only follow his belief and practice with a total immersion baptism. After several phone calls and discussion, the hospital finally agreed. Jeanie was to be totally immersed in a hospital tub, while medical staff watched over her.

I visited Jeanie a few times before her emergency surgery. At the time, she, nor I, knew how sick she was. While visiting one day, Jeanie and I discussed religion. We discussed what being “saved”meant and the Christian plan for salvation. A nurse came in the room and started doing some work behind a privacy screen. I summed up saying that, “Being born again is like starting life all over again. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past. You are a new person.”

The nurse came out from behind the screen sobbing. She had obviously heard our discussion and I was embarrassed. I know now that this nurse knew how sick Jeanie was and that her condition was hopeless.

I would not learn that Jeanie was dying till a few days after her surgery. Jeanie would not learn of her rapidly approaching death until a month later. I told her at a park, where I use to take my kids, while we had ice cream cones.

The next day after seeing the tearful nurse, I met Chaplain Ladd at Jeanie’s bedside. He discussed the ritual of baptism and salvation with Jeanie. We had a prayer of repentance.

When I approached the nursing staff about the scheduled baptism, there was initially some confusion. Apparently, the plan had not been shared with the staff. There were some phone calls and discussion. The staff had to find a place with an appropriate tub to use. They finally found one on a different ward, which was used by the physical therapy department. Two black nurse’s aids were assigned to help us out.

We dressed Jeanie in two generic hospital gowns. One was put on in the usual style and opened to the back. The other was put on to tie in the front, to insure some degree of privacy while we transversed the halls.

The tub room was cold in blue tile and steel handrails. Chaplain Ladd said the deep and old-fashioned tub was satisfactory. He filled the tub and checked periodically to make sure the temperature was just right as the two attendants stood holding Jeanie steady.

Chaplain Ladd got Jeanie in the tub. He instructed her to fold her arms across her chest. The two aids got ready with towels. He and Jeanie said a brief prayer. Chaplain Ladd recited a brief passage from the Bible and laid her back into the water.

Jeanie was immersed. As she rose up out of the water, the two black female workers broke out in the gospel song “Amazing Grace.” Chaplain Ladd and I joined in. We were all baptized with tears by the end of the verse.

At the time, I didn’t know how sick Jeanie was, nor that she would be left child-like and die so quickly.

Jeanie’s impairment became quite obvious after her surgery. She was confused and delusional. She thought she was in the hospital to deliver her baby. She was not pregnant. Sadly, she would never experience the act of giving birth. Most of us, her friends and family, thought this irrational thinking would clear up. Jeanie kept the delusion of having a baby for nine months, until her death.

After being released from the hospital, Jeanie did get a little better, but she never improved to have the functioning ability above a four-year-old child.

I cared for Jeanie fulltime while she steadily declined to death. There were many days of doing nothing except watching TV and eating meals. A few times Jeanie would ask me questions that were difficult for me to answer. Once in the middle of the night she asked me if she should try chemotherapy since the surgery and radiation therapy had failed. I told her that we could talk to her doctor about it in a few weeks at her next appointment. She replied by asking, “Will I be alive then?” I answered honestly, and with a lump in my throat, ” I don’t know.”

Other times we would play talk and act silly to one another. She would play word games like a child. One of the games we played was remembering people’s names and the meaning of words. One word Jeanie could not remember was sanctified. I reminded her of being baptized quite frequently and explained what that meant. She could not understand. I would usually end up explaining and then sum up by saying, “It means you are ready for Jesus.” Jeanie would repeat this several times in an excited child-like manner and it seemed to make her happy.

Just saying and repeating “ready for Jesus” seemed to bring her some peace and comfort.

Jeanie steadily declined in health and functioning. Just months before, she had been a witty, beautiful, and athletic woman. By the time she went to a nursing home, just shortly before her death, she had the mind of a child and the body of a ninety-year-old woman. Her face was round and distorted, her bones brittle, and her muscles wasted away. I remember her once looking in the mirror and crying about her appearance. These periods of despair were sparse and she was always the type to pick her spirits up and go on.

Jeanie’s memorial services were on April 1, 2003, April Fools’ Day. She was cremated at her request. Knowing Jeanie’s personality, I am sure she has had a laugh over the date of her services. She had the most distinct laugh. It was loud, vibrant, and bawdy. I can still hear it deep in my head.

Every now and then I pause and think about Jeanie and her death. If the moment is quiet and I still my soul, I can still her say “ready for Jesus”, and it brings me comfort too.


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