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 reason 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 9:45pm, 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 💖