Category: Susan Handle Terbay

Her Name Is Frances…

Years ago while working at a Hospice, I had the privilege of meeting many wonderful women from all walks of life, cultures and races. The mission of the Hospice staff is to give comfort and care to the dying and their families. Such care stems from nurses, social workers, chaplains, home health aides, volunteers and grief counselors, as well as the staff members billing or answering phones, who were just as caring. Because of the level of energy such care demands of people, the founder, Betty, believed in not only taking care of the patients and families but also encouraging us to take care of ourselves.  We were encouraged to become involved in a support group facilitated by a psychologist.  Once a month, each group of about 10 staff members from all categories of care met to support, share and ‘be’ for each other. It was during these support groups that I actually learned about the people I shared eight hours a day with. We realized more about what we had in common than what made us different.  We all learned we are never alone in this journey of life.

Frances is a woman of color and the only reason I state this is because all my early life I lived among white people, went to schools with only white kids and prayed in churches filled with white families.  What I have realized these many years later is that I missed out on a lot of stories. Growing up segregated, one only hears one side of a story or one view of life about the other race or culture or religion; and this goes both ways – people of color did not know the stories of white people as I know them. Ignorance is no excuse, but that is what I had a lot of. I knew nothing about my black sisters.

Frances is a home health aide.  Her hands soothed patients with warm baths and lotion back rubs.  Her quiet voice read Bible stories and her compassion made her a wonderful listener. Patients shared much with her.  Frances is a warm caring and happy person and never was I aware that she carried great pain in her life until one day during one of our support groups when she shared with us her greatest sorrow.  We found out three of her young children years back had died in a house fire while she was at work.  She shared that the loss nearly killed her body and soul.  Yet, Frances lived and, more, she survived. It was her deep, deep faith in her God and in her Savior that sustained her through her darkest days.  She spoke freely about her faith and her beliefs, and we all benefited from her words. Frances liked the vision of an oak tree – firmly grounded with deep roots of faith and love.  She also liked the willow tree, which bends and bows with the winds that pull at the trunk.

Years later, Frances had a heart attack and was forced to take medical leave and eventually retire.   It was with great sadness, we had to say farewell to such a great lady.  One day shortly after she left, she stopped by my office, and I asked her how she was doing.  She said, “Well, Sue, I was really down for a while. I saw no purpose for me anymore.”  As she talked, I ached for her because she loved her patients and she loved her work. She continued, “But you know what I did? One day, I just told the devil that I would give him one more day with me, and then he has to leave because my Jesus is calling me to do something good.”

“One day, I just told the devil that I would give him one more day with me, and then he has to leave because my Jesus is calling me to do something good.”

I started to chuckle because that was my Frances, that was the woman who was both an oak and a willow tree. With a smile, she continued, “So the next day, I decided I don’t have to stay in the house. I have a purpose and that purpose is to help young girls learn about home health care.”  Eventually, Frances was able to take care of a patient in her home. And she did teach young women about the work of a home health aide, but, more, I believe she enlightened young women just as she enlightened so many of the staff and patients who were blessed to have her in our lives.

I don’t know whatever happened to Frances after that. I do know I’ve been changed by the presence of her in my life. She inspired me to believe in something and someone greater than myself. Whenever I get depressed or down, I take on Frances’ attitude and tell the devil, “He has one more day with me, and then he has to leave because Jesus is calling me to do something good.”

Her name is Frances … a woman of color, a woman of faith and a woman of strength far beyond her physical body.

– Susan Handle Terbay,
Administrative Assistant
Center for Social Concern
Campus Ministry