By the REV. MOKI HINO
Being an Episcopal priest often means that I’m called upon to “midwife” people into death. And being an Episcopal priest in Hilo often means that when that time comes, the dying person is surrounded by family and friends. It often means that I have to work with caregivers and volunteers from Hospice of Hilo. And I can’t tell you what a relief it is when they’re alongside me, like they were when Auntie Winfred Lum was admitted to the Pohai Malama Care Center.
Toward the end of her life, the time had come to administer what we often call “last rites,” and the family called me to anoint Aunty Winnie with oil. I checked in at the nurses’ station and the doctor on-call let me know that Auntie Winnie was in a very deep sleep and might not come out of it.
So I walked down the hall and into a room filled with light — light from the sun coming through the windows and light that radiated from the hearts of family and church members who gathered around Auntie Winnie’s bed. I placed my hand on her forehead, said a short prayer, and then realized that I’d forgotten the oil back at the parish. That lightened the mood and we all had a good laugh and tried to figure out what to do.
Pohai Malama is a place where that’s OK.
One of Auntie Winnie’s nieces looked up at me and said, “Well, I can run out to my truck and get the 1040 motor oil that I’ve got in the cab. Would that work?”
We pondered that for a moment and thought we’d better try something else. Someone else thought about asking the nursing staff if they had any olive oil in the kitchen.
Then the neatest thing happened.
Auntie Cynthia Sorenson, who was a Hospice of Hilo board member at the time, remembered that she worked to have kukui trees planted in the garden right after they broke ground at Pohai Malama. “I’ll be right back,” she said and walked out the door.
A few minutes later, Auntie Cynthia came back with four kukui nuts that she held upsidedown in her hands. She showed us where the stems had been and said, “Wait a few minutes.”
Not long after that, oil began to ooze out of the kukui.
“We can use this,” Auntie Cynthia said. Then she continued, “Kukui symbolizes light and the oil has healing powers.” She held out her hands and I said a short prayer.
Then I put my thumb on one of the kukui, rubbed a little bit of oil off it, and anointed Auntie Winnie’s forehead while Auntie Cynthia passed the kukui around to everyone else. They followed my lead, put a little bit of oil in their hands, went up to Auntie Winnie and put oil her forehead, her hands, and her feet.
Auntie Winnie died two days later. She was ready and so were we.
She got the oil she needed and we did what we had to do. And we felt comfortable and we knew it’d be OK.
Pohai Malama is that kind of place — more than being just a place where medical attention is given, it’s also a place of the heart where people with dying loved ones have freedom to tend to the spirit and soothe the soul — sometimes with the oil from kukui trees in the yard, but mostly with kind and compassionate care. Hospice of Hilo eased Auntie Winnie’s passing and they touched the lives of her family and friends.
The Rev. Moki Hino is rector at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Hilo.