The Comfy Couch

Friday, August 18, 2023

At the end of a year of service and spiritual formation, one of the final reflective practices is for Ministry Volunteers to sit with some prompting questions and write a Closing Reflection that is shared in our farewell services. Below is the Closing Reflection from Anna Quast (BSVM ’22-’23) who served with Bon Secours Hospice in Richmond, VA. She reflected on the question, ‘How have you been transformed through service with others?’ Her trailblazing year with Hospice was defined by her relationship with Miss B, and even in the midst of grief and sadness, Anna was transformed by the comfort and joy she experienced through that relationship.

Closing Reflection: The Comfy Couch
By Anna Quast, BSVM 2022-2023
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame

The comfy couch. The comfy couch is where I sat every Thursday from September to February. From about noon to four, sometimes 4:30 in the afternoon. For six months I sat on this couch once a week. Sometimes twice. At the beginning of this service year, I don’t think I knew I would be sitting on the couch so much. At the end of this year, however, I look back on that couch and am so incredibly grateful I did.

I am grateful I sat on the couch for so long because I was not alone. I was with her, Miss B, as I will call her. At noon, I would be welcomed into Miss B’s house, and she would be sitting there, on the comfy couch. She would often smile at my greeting, and I would always plop down on the comfy couch right next to her. She would probably be making her way through some banana-flavored oatmeal or scrambled eggs and biscuits, and her reusable Starbucks cup of water with a bendy straw would be on the little TV tray that was always in front of her. Almost without fail, she would be wearing some fuzzy slippers and her pajamas with little pinkish-red hearts that I adored.

For six months, Miss B and I would sit together on that comfy couch. Sometimes the Hallmark channel would be on, which her daughter said was one of her mom’s favorite channels. Sometimes there would be music. Miss B and I would chat sometimes, though given the point she was at in her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the conversation we had may not have made much sense to an outside listener. It made sense to us, though. And many times, even if there were other sounds going on in the background, Miss B and I would be sitting in silence. Sharing silence.

Some of my favorite memories, however, would be after our periods of silence—I would look at Miss B and she would look at me, and she would just smile the way she would with a sparkle in her eyes and just start laughing. Such mirth had to be shared, so I would inevitably join in the laughter.

As I reflect on the nature of the way God created us—as interdependent beings—there is much that I have experienced on that comfy couch that has taught me of how much I give to and receive from others. There are things my visits with Miss B gave others—I was able to provide her main caregivers with a much needed and deserved time to go out for errands, grab lunch, and rest. I was a companion to Miss B and would support her in cleaning up water spills, readjusting her pillow, or opening up a pouch of mini muffins for her.

There was much much more, however, that I received from my Thursday afternoons on the comfy couch with Miss B. I learned so much: about the power of presence, the sacredness of silence, and the loveliness of unprompted laughter. I was provided companionship, a kind welcoming from many family members I met over the six months, and endless moments of comfort and joy.

I remember one day, sitting on the comfy couch, Miss B said clearly, “they’re cold.” She was holding out her hands, sharing with me how they were, indeed, cold! I immediately took her hands in mine as they were slightly warmer, and just started trying to warm up her hands. We sat there, her hands in mine and mine in hers, and, after some silence as I have shared, she looked at me and laughed. And I looked at her and laughed. Such comfort and joy, indeed.

While Miss B only had a few clear words or phrases here and there, there were a few phrases she was always able to get out. One of them would often happen when we were watching a Hallmark show and the male protagonist would come on the screen—Miss B would say, “he’s cute!”

Sometimes it would be a simple, “hi!” My favorite, however, would be, “I love you!” I was blessed to be told I was loved by Miss B many times in my six months with her. At first, I assumed she would just say that to anybody, and, while Miss B truly did say that to almost everyone, at some point I just knew she truly meant it. She loved me and I loved her. One day, she added a bit of an extra endearment. As I was saying goodbye, she said, “I love you! You be good!” Like I was her own grandchild! I laughed and, of course, promised I would be good. Such comfort and joy, indeed.

In addition to growing comfortable with silence and coming to appreciate the beauty in simply being present to one another, one powerful gift I received from Miss B was courage. The way she would comfort me with a smile, a silly face, and a laugh reminded me of another person dear to my heart. One weekend after a visit on the comfy couch with Miss B, I had the courage to write a letter. I wrote a letter to my lovely mother, Alyson, and shared some of my experiences with her. I also shared a longing that had been tugging on my heart—to know more stories about her father, my grandfather.

I was blessed to grow up not too far from him, and to give you just a taste of what kind of person he is—he is also the kind to bring you comfort and joy from a smile, a laugh, and many, many silly faces. I am so fortunate to have many beautiful memories of my childhood with him. As I have grown, however, and have developed so many questions about his life, his career path in healthcare, and all his nuggets of wisdom, I have unfortunately not been able to ask him directly due to his progression in his own diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

The comfort and joy I received from Miss B, however, has given me the courage I didn’t have for some time to share my feelings with my mother and ask those questions I have about my grandfather. Most importantly, Miss B has taught me that, when it comes to relationships with others, including my grandfather, it does not require in-depth conversation to truly get to know another. It is simply about the presence we offer each other and noticing that God is there in that loving presence. Such comfort and joy, indeed.

There were two Thursdays I did not sit on the comfy couch. Instead, I sat in a chair as Miss B was lying in her bed. I knew it was almost time. Those were the two most silent visits we had together. Yet, in the sadness of what was to come, there was an even more powerful beauty in the silence we shared those last two Thursdays.

I had the opportunity to reflect more on our relationship over the past six months and all the moments of comfort and joy we shared. The Spirit moved me the second time I didn’t sit on the comfy couch. I knew that this was the day I had to say goodbye. As the time neared four PM, I was able to break the silence and say my thanks and my goodbyes.

The following week, I was blessed to be welcomed to her service. I was even able to join the family at the cemetery. I was able to see all the family members I had seen on and off in those six months, and I was offered hugs and even a flower from Miss B’s casket. I was sad, of course, but I also felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and joy.

How blessed was I to be welcomed into the last six months of someone’s life. Into their family, into their home, into their weekly routine. I will always remember my Thursday afternoons on the comfy couch. God was certainly coming to me in every moment on that comfy couch—in the hours of silence, in the moments of laughter, in the sadness and grief, but also in the moments of comfort and joy. How blessed am I to have come to find God and experience compassion, healing, and liberation in such a beautiful relationship—all while sitting on a very comfy couch!

Anna with her BSVM ’22-’23 community

Anna on a comfy chair in the BSVM house