A very profound experience I had at the House of the Dying was with a patient named Frank, who I got to know fairly well over the course of a couple mornings. He was a 74 year old man without family, without much money, and with a blown-out knee requiring a surgery he could not afford. He was not terminally ill, but he was brought there by the sisters because he still needed a great deal of assistance to live that no one else could provide for him.
One of the first things that really struck me to the heart in Kolkata was when I first introduced myself to Frank. After asking him for his name, I received no invitation to share my own. I thought that was a little odd and decided to just tell him my name, but he made no response (most people will repeat it or give some confirmation). I said it a second time in case he had not heard it, but his response to my repetition was to the effect that there was no point in trying to memorize a name with a face who’d be leaving shortly anyways. I felt a bitter sadness from hearing that response. He meant no malice and said it in a charitable way, but I couldn’t help think to myself that this was likely a shared feeling among the other patients regarding the international volunteers. At first this made me a little discouraged, but the fact of the matter was that Frank was right, and I truly believe that was something I needed to hear.
I spent the most of remaining days I had at the House of the Dying with Frank. I got to talk to him about his childhood, sports, his family, and listen to him tell the unfortunate reasons for his arrival at the House. I felt helpless, however, that I could not give Frank one of the most basic things he needed – a friend to walk with him through his fear. He felt alone, without purpose, and knew his time was getting short. In the little time I had with him he did ask me to prayer with him, and he was a Christian, which gave me immense hope for his entrance into the Father’s House. I was reminded that prayer and the conversion of hearts through Jesus is the most powerful and important ‘work’ we can do as it is truly God’s work. Frank made St. Mother Teresa’s words profoundly meaningful to me: that we must find our own Kolkata. We have the poor and abandoned in our own backyards. Not just the materially poor, but those who have enough material things but interiorly thirst for love and need someone to walk with them in the Christian life. These people are our fellow parishioners, friends, siblings, coworkers, etc. My time at the House of the Dying made this beautiful truth very real to me.