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The Viewing Room

Jacquelin Gorman

Publication Year: 2013

In The Viewing Room, two hospital chaplains console the living during the moments when they look upon their beloved dead for one last time in a large urban hospital in Los Angeles. But this room is also a character, linking stories together and bearing witness in chilling testimony of grief and wisdom. Henrietta and Maurice, the chaplains, are ministers who have lost their faith due to devastating personal tragedy. Still, they regain their hold on their own lives through their work, one death at a time.

Jacquelin Gorman lays bare nine parallel worlds of suffering in stories of unflinching detail, vividly told with heart, guts, and compassion. In these pages, the children are both murderers and victims, and the adults fare no better: a teenage father shakes his screaming baby to death; high school surfers kill the homeless for sport as a way of cleaning up their beaches; a Muslim basketball player readies her best friend for burial with a sacred ritual that reveals forbidden love; a scorned ex-wife leaves a message in permanent ink on the body of her betrayer; and a pet therapy dog’s unconditional love for a decaying body memorializes the spirit within.

This moving and unsettling collection of stories shines a piercing light on the dark corners of our modern world, illuminating necessary truths that convey a clearer and, undoubtedly, greater vision of humanity.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Cover

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pp. 1-9

Contents

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pp. 10-11

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

...First, I owe a great debt of gratitude to the magnificent Flannery O’Connor for being absolutely fearless in every aspect of her life. The editorial staff at University of Georgia Press are worthy preservers of her legacy. Thank you, Nancy Zafris, Jane Kobres, and Sydney...

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The Viewing Room: APRIL

...In every large urban hospital, there is a viewing room, designated for family and friends to look upon the dead one more time. The viewing room is the same size and shape as the other patient rooms, with one notable exception. There is no window to the outside world. This is a room with an interior...

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THE LAW OF LOOKING OUT FOR ONE ANOTHER

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pp. 3-18

...Henrietta was fifteen minutes late for her first all-night shift alone as the hospital chaplain. In another fifteen minutes, the Spiritual Care Department chair would be notified and she could lose her privilege to be on the on-call list. She had been training for this job for three...

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The Viewing Room: MAY

...The entrance doors to the hospital’s viewing room do not carry warning signs for those about to bear witness to the unbearable. There is no preparation for the sight of the freshly dead body of a loved one last seen alive. All other senses fade into the background of the present moment, may...

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GHOST DANCE

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pp. 21-34

...It was late on Sunday night, Mother’s Day, a day that had already seemed endless, when Henrietta, the chaplain on call for the hospital, received an urgent page to come to the patient in Room 204, who had requested spiritual support. Birdie, an elderly Pima Indian...

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The Viewing Room: JUNE

...There is no privacy in the viewing room. A video camera records everything. The film would make an unappealing reality show, given its steadfast refusal to change the scenery. And most of the moments in here are predictable and grimly mundane. But there are shocks—remarkable moments...

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HAVING WORDS

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pp. 37-48

...“I’ll take the ex-wife, and you take the girlfriend,” Maurice whispered. “I have seniority and I get fi rst pick. Whatever we do, we can’t let them meet anywhere in this hospital and have words. Is that a deal?” Henrietta didn’t answer...

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The Viewing Room: JULY

...People rarely close their eyes or even blink when they are in the viewing room, as if the intensity of their stares will make the body move. Their secret fantasy is that the body will rise up and start to walk and talk and get back to ordinary business, like Lazarus. The trouble with all those Bible...

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STAGGERED DEPARTURES

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pp. 51-66

...The call came the way Anna’s mother had predicted, through a stranger’s voice. Still, she wasn’t prepared for the newsanchor quality of this woman’s tone, trained to deliver messages of personal tragedy. “Yes, I’m Anna Green.” “Then Melanie Green is your mother?”...

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The Viewing Room: AUGUST

...Age has no bearing in the viewing room. No matter how old and grown up, every person pays the price of a child’s admission ticket. They come here with hearts and minds and souls as unformed and pliable as play dough. Their emotions, thoughts, and spirits are wide open to changing shape for...

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THE PROBLEM OUTSIDE

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pp. 69-80

...It was a hot, muggy day with the stifling kind of heat one would expect in Manhattan, New York, but not in Manhattan Beach, California. The heat started the morning slowly like a transient, loitering outside the etched-glass seashell-motif double doors of the exclusive...

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The Viewing Room: SEPTEMBER

...There are as many views of death as the people who come here to view it. When death is pronounced inside a hospital, the number of viewers multiplies. When that hospital is located in Los Angeles, where thousands of cultures and races and religions intersect, the viewing room is a cauldron...

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BLOOD RULES

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pp. 83-94

...The sound of his hospital pager shaking his nightstand stirred him from sleep. He waited a few minutes before looking at the message. He had this uneasy feeling in his chest, as if the air was going in one direction, out of his lungs but not back in, no matter how many...

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The Viewing Room: OCTOBER

...The chaplain must keep careful watch over visitors to ensure that the corpse remains intact and unaffected by its brief stay here. But this requires constant vigilance, open-eyed prayers, and quick deflective actions, because mourners have uncontrollable impulses in the viewing room. Remarkable...

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PERMANENT MAKEUP

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pp. 97-110

...Ellie could see the Grim Reaper from the parking lot, but she was not going to give him the time of day. She lowered her head and trudged through the entryway of the Torrance Community Center, shoving the ghastly image, both hands pressing against his black...

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The Viewing Room: NOVEMBER

...Almost all major faith traditions have easily accommodated the secular holiday of Thanksgiving. Yet the everyday practice of giving thanks for one’s blessings requires concerted effort. Gratitude, like compassion, is a difficult exercise in spiritual discipline, growing in power only when practiced...

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PASSERBY

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pp. 113-126

...Some people view life as a gift, and some people view life as an entitlement. But Ellie knew she was different. She viewed life as a short-term bridge loan, and she was always behind on the payments. She was aware that at any moment the collateral could be repossessed...

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The Viewing Room: DECEMBER

...What is the right way to face the end of life? Some ways appear more courageous, more efficient, or simply not as gruesome as some others. But could there possibly be a perfect way to die? And if so, why does it matter? In most cases, the circumstances of our death will not be within our...

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SAFE SURRENDER

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pp. 129-138

...Henrietta peered at the one door in the basement hallway that was not decorated for Christmas. She gasped when she saw that the coded lock was missing. The viewing room was never left unlocked, and only Spiritual Care and Janitorial Services had the code, changed...


E-ISBN-13: 9780820346373
E-ISBN-10: 0820346373
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820346373

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

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