Chaplain Terrell Jones bows her head to pray, the white sleeves of her ceremonial garb blending with the T-shirt worn by the man she has come to baptize.
There are several types of baptism. This white-haired elderly man has chosen immersion and sits in the white medical tub watching as the prayer comes to an end.
Hands clad in purple gloves support him as registered nurses in black scrubs wait to perform their part in the sacrament – helping to submerge the hospice patient in holy water.
“My beloved son, Jenis James Grindstaff, I now at this time baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Ghost, and in Jesus’ name.”
The chaplain’s hand slides behind the man’s back. Grindstaff breathes out loudly and leans forward.
“Ok. Let me see if I can get over here.”
Grindstaff manages it, the baptismal tub splashing slightly. A second hospice chaplain, Katie Harbin, fills a square pink bucket with water from the tub and pours it over the man’s head.
“In the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Ghost, and in Jesus’ name,” Jones said. “Amen. Come on and let’s celebrate, family. Hallelujah.”
Grindstaff wipes the water from his face. “That felt good.”
The surrounding family members clap for Grindstaff, and his sons take turns talking softly to their father.
Then, everyone files out so the nurses can minister to him – gently washing his hair and body, draining the tub and dressing him before transferring him back to the stretcher and ambulance that will carry him home.
“It’s sacred to us,” Harbin said. “It’s sacred to him.”
Before he dies, Grindstaff wanted to be baptized. Thanks to a number of Spartanburg Regional Hospice, transportation and facilities professionals working together, he got his wish.
‘We’re going to make this happen’
Grindstaff lives with his son Craig and daughter-in-law Pam, where he receives hospice care at home from Spartanburg Regional.
“The hospice team is wonderful,” Pam said. “They’re very kind in the way they talk to him. They make him laugh.”
Grindstaff’s other son, Jim, brought his family down from their Ohio home to be part of the ceremony – his wife Sondra and grandchildren Lexie and Joshua.
“He’s been a lot better off in hospice care,” Jim said.
When Grindstaff asked to be baptized, it came as a bit of a surprise to the family.
“He’s always read the Bible, but he had never been baptized,” Jim said of his father, who had been born to religious parents but never seemed very religious himself. “He wanted to show he believed more than anything else.”
Grindstaff communicated that wish to Spartanburg Regional’s chaplains. Jones met with him in September.
“He wanted full immersion,” Jones said. “He said, ‘I don’t want sprinkles.’”
Hospice can’t always help fulfill last wishes, but the team knew this was something they could accomplish.
“I thought, ‘We’re going to make this happen,’” Jones said.
But immersion came with a complex set of issues. Because of Grindstaff’s medical issues, he couldn’t be lowered into a traditional baptismal pool. His tub at home was also unsuitable – Grindstaff wouldn’t be able to get in and out.
The answer: A 60-gallon tub at the Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home, designed to assist with patients who can’t get in and out of traditional baths.
Facilities team member Rich Eich was called in to check the tub.
“We maintain it weekly, but it doesn’t get a lot of use,” Eich said.
A door to the bath allows the patient to step in and have a seat without ever climbing over a tub wall. Once the door closes, seals prevent the water from escaping.
“This tub is designed to fill quickly,” Eich said. “It fills in less than two minutes, and it drains quickly, too.”
Once Eich made sure the tub worked properly, the hospice team knew they had their baptismal pool.
‘We rarely see that’
With that issue solved, another arose – how to get Grindstaff to the hospice home. Emergency medical technician Nicholas Hagood in transportation got the call.
"One of the best things about transport is that you see everybody,” Hagood said. “Over time, you get to see their progress and hear their stories."
Transport workers go everywhere, and they receive their instructions via a computer. Grindstaff’s transport notice came through with the word “baptism” in the notes.
“When we read ‘baptism,’ we said, ‘Whoa. We rarely see that,’” Hagood said.
The Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Hospice Special Needs fund helped make the transportation possible.
The transport team arrived at Grindstaff’s house, placed him on a stretcher and brought him to the Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home.
A baptism is always special, but Tameka Irvin, NP, calls every day she comes to work a blessing.
“I look at it as a ministry,” Irvin, the Hospice Home nurse manager, said. “Being able to honor wishes like this baptism is heartwarming.”
The team helped place Grindstaff in the bath and filled it. Once he was ready, the family was called in. Also on hand: Kim Ross, director of hospice, palliative care and senior health.
Ross saluted the teamwork it took to make Grindstaff’s wish come true.
“If transportation doesn’t do what they do, this isn’t possible,” Ross said. “If facilities doesn’t do what they do, this isn’t possible. And then the hospice nurses and chaplains, everyone comes together to do what they all do best – care for our patients.”
After the ceremony, the hospice staff took extra time with Grindstaff.
“We washed his hair and oiled his skin,” Irvin said. “We massaged his feet.”
Afterward, as Grindstaff and his family left the hospice home, Irvin told them how much this experience mattered to everyone involved.
“Seeing that smile on his face fills my heart with joy,” Irvin said.
Making Every Moment Matter, Together: Learn more about Spartanburg Regional Hospice.
Hope Made Possible By You: Contribute to Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s hospice fund.