The Black Book


My first job after graduating college was in the Admissions Office of a large hospital.

Talk about busy?

We were always busy.

Part of that busy-ness included keeping records on every patient that was admitted and discharged from the facility.

As you might imagine, there were a number of different routes and/or reasons that a patient might enter the hospital…

And there were a number of different routes and/or reasons that they could leave…

Now comes “The Black Book.”

You see, in general, most people, upon discharge, would either go home or be transferred to a different level of care–sometimes higher, sometimes lower.


They took what was often called a “celestial discharge.”

Need I say more?

Uh…I think you get my meaning.

Anyway, whenever a person passed away, the nurse from the floor where they had been would call a central office and report all of the relative vital information regarding that death.

Next, the central office would call the Admissions Office and convey said information to one of us to enter into the “Black Book.”

I can’t begin to count all of the times that I was responsible for adding a new entry into this unnerving ledger.

But it was part of the job, so I had to do it.

Well, in an effort to lift the air of melancholia associated with this task, Nancy, from the central office would always preface the call with “Gwin, get out the Black Book! We have another celestial discharge!”

Of course, we’d both laugh nervously but the fact remained that someone had died and most likely left grieving family and friends behind.

At any rate, the process always went thusly:

I’d follow Nancy’s request to “pull out the Black Book.”  I would then print off an admission sheet and record as Nancy dictated, “We have Fred Rogers, time of death ( 21:45 or 9:45pm/ hospitals used 24hours or military time), Dr. Seuss is the pronouncing physician and we’ve got Williams Mortuary coming to pick up the body.”

I’d then take that admission sheet and quietly add it to the front of the Black Book.

Even though I hated adding new entries, I somehow felt that in a minor way I was helping this person’s soul to close-out it’s Earthly busy-ness.

I guess that was my way of taking some of the sting out of the assignment.

In short, I had made my peace.

In fact, on quiet nights, I would thumb through this sobering book whenever I needed to get some gratitude.

Naturally, I had come to know some of the people in the book.

And, while I didn’t know them all personally, I often learned many of their stories.

From one page to the next I’d contemplate the ruddy-faced teen who took a full bottle of pills after concluding that the whole damn thing was way too much…

Or the middle-aged Sicilian woman who bid her newborn farewell while, simulatneously, taking her last breath…

Or the once bright-eyed 3-year-old whose father had not noticed that she was playing directly behind his truck as he hastily backed out of the driveway on his way to some important busy-ness…

And there was Marion, whom we called ‘Black Jesus,’ because his skin was smooth and dark as night.  His straight, long, flowing obsidian colored tresses were often neatly pulled back into a pony-tail that snaked down to his waist.

I really missed him because he was always determined to remain in good spirits despite having suffered from a lifelong painful chronic illness.

Yes.  That was them…

Each one an individual entry in the Black Book…all come and gone.

Even though I left that place over 20 years ago, I still thumb through those pages in my imagination.

Again, it’s my way of finding gratitude 💖


33 thoughts on “The Black Book

  1. Pingback: A Family Conversation: A Prayer for The Dying – Seek The Best Blog

    1. That’s a very interesting question Cory. To be honest, I was more shocked by the things that people actually survived. We had one case where an angry man shot his girlfriend in her most private parts and SHE LIVED!
      But the one thing that was always hardest was to see little ones and young adults die. Also parents with young children. Those were really the hardest to get used to.


  2. Beautiful sentiment, and yes, a great reminder. I worked at various nursing homes for more than a decade…. so many stories and different lives, and each celestial discharge (I like that term) as difficult as the previous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Paula:) I learned something new about you in this response 🙂
      I really believe that people who work in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices should maintain a certain level of respect and reverence for patients as they transition away from our physical world.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂 love

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful story, and such an interesting piece to know about you. It takes a strong person to walk the hospital world. Perhaps those whose names you wrote during those years make up the choir that will sing you to that “place over yonder” when it comes the time. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gee, what a job to have… but like you said, SOMEbody’s gotta do it, and you certainly figured out ways to make it, well, palatable. I like how you humanized every single departed person, recognized their worth. They weren’t just a number, which to someone else with less humanity her- or himself, could have been just that. Kudos to do, doing a difficult job.

    BTW – teensy typo – “reguest” instead of request. Ellie the proofreader strikes again! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Ellie 🙂 I loved your comment. Your humor and wisdom always shine through in all the right places.
      BTW, good catch on the typo 🙂
      But I warn you, I make them all of the time so proceed with caution LOL!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Coming into the world is just as important as leaving it. Whilst we celebrate one, the other is always a time for sadness and reflection, and we have learned over time, many of us, to celebrate the lives of those who have departed. If you, like me believe that we ‘live’ on albeit in a way that we don’t yet fully understand, that ‘Black Book’ becomes a snap-shot of the time those souls spent here whilst on their ‘journey’. That book is never the end, but the start of another chapter in their lives. That was such an important job, Gwin, and you (and your colleagues) were trusted to write the ‘afterword’ in that book. Thank you for sharing with such compassion and sensitivity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello M’Lady,
      Thank you for that warm response. And yes, like you, I do believe that life goes on after we leave the physical body. And as you said so beautifully, it goes on “in a way that we don’t yet fully understand.” No truer words have been spoken.
      I love your observation that we were writing an ‘afterword’ of sorts. Your comment has lifted this exchange to a much higher level and I love it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous

    I’m new here, but this was exactly what I needed to hear today. After the events of this weekend I was beginning to wonder if there was any decency left in this world. There is. ❤

    I work as a volunteer who sits with people who are actively dying and have no one else to sit with them. Sometimes they are awake, sometimes not. I always try to find out something about them that was really good, that maybe made an impact and remind them how they made the world a better place. It's important to be recognized.

    I remember all of them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for taking time to leave a very poignant response. I admire people who do the work that you are doing. You guys really are Earth-angels. The dying deserve the kind of reverence that you offer.
      Take care and God bless you as you do this important work 🙂


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