Category Archives: hospice

Two Things

Alzheimer patient Tomaz is caressed by husband Dos Santos in their house in LisbonI visit with my patients on a regular basis. What I see and hear often can be emotional and moving.

Harold (not his real name) sits in the memory unit of a local facility every Fri morning holding the hand of his wife. They sit together in the common area – her in her wheel chair and he on the couch. She can’t speak nor does she seem to recognize Harold. They’ve been married 43 years. She became a resident this past Jun after suffering a massive stroke which mostly immobilized her and left her unable to communicate or remember much of anything.

His touch is tender, he talks to her as if she understands everything he is saying, and he smiles at her all of the time.

I went to a movie a few days ago. I had peeked ahead to see what it was about. I knew it would be hard to watch but I felt I needed to see it for a number of reasons.

Vincent goes to the assisted living home every week. Before entering a room down the hall, he puts on a white doctor’s lab coat. Upon entering, he greets the woman in the room with a strong “Good morning, Martha. You look beautiful as always today.”

Martha responds, “Hello doctor. I feel good today. Aren’t the tulips wonderfully colorful outside?”

“Yes, so amazingly colorful.”

After what appears to be a very cursory check-up, Vincent declares, “You check out excellently again today. As incredible as ever.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Martha says.

Each time that Vincent leaves the care facility, he takes Martha’s linens and clothes with him in a laundry basket. The aide at the front counter says, “You know we can take care of her wash, Vincent.”

Vincent says, “No, it’s okay. I want to do it.”

A few weeks later, Vincent (as the doctor) and Martha are outside sitting on a bench next to a pond looking at the ducks. As usual, the two are talking about the pretty settings and splashing ducks.

Martha says, “Vin, do you see those ducks diving?” Vincent’s voice catches and his eyes well up with tears.

He responds, “Yes, Martha, aren’t they something?”

Martha casually responds, “Yes, doctor. They are truly amazing.”

The moment passes quickly and without notice by anyone except Vincent.

Vincent and Harold are in the same situation. Their spouses are aware – but not of them. In story or in real life, it is heartbreaking to observe.

Two things. What is worse? Having a loved one who is present but not aware, or simply not being able to sit in the presence of a loved one?

· Leave a comment. Posted in grief, hospice.

Old Vets

We-Honor-VeteransBig plans for Veteran’s Day in a few weeks. I was called up and will be working with hospice staff and chaplains at two of our local facilities – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – to “pin veterans.” This is part of a national effort called We Honor Veterans. Our hospice coordinates pinning at many local facilities with our staff on Veteran’s Day and it’s neat to help out.

I did this last year and it was nice for the patients – many of who, sadly, don’t remember their service. But it’s okay. We have some nice pins to stick on their lapels and and we’re able to serve some drink and punch. Usually the vets are all brought into a common area where we call out their names, tell the service they served in and the years of their service, and thank them for their service. We then walk over to each person, shake their hand, pin their ribbon – and give them their cake.

Lots of good war stories from some of the people. These are WWII and Korean vets, of course, but last year, there was a Viet Nam vet, too. And there was one interesting person – he was a vet of both the Army and Navy. Not sure how he did that but he was proud of both and had stories from both.

And of course, the old Marines are all ooo-rah the whole time. They are funny.

Some of the patients are unable to make it to the common area so we visit them in their rooms. I remember one gentleman who was asleep – not to wake up – but we pinned his pillow and thanked him. Stuff like that is special to me.

They are all good people and I am glad we can spend a few minutes with them. I look forward to Nov 11.

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One Week

goneawayI met her ten days ago. When we had arrived, she was napping but her daughter, who was up visiting from North Carolina, said we should wake her because she would like to see us. She hadn’t been doing very well, unfortunately. Within the last three weeks, she had gone from talkative and active to sedate and sleeping most of the time. Not a good sign.

We spoke for awhile – us talking and her listening and nodding and saying a few words. She still liked to dress neatly and was napping in her bed under a light blanket in a pretty, purple suit. She looked very queenly and royal, we told her. She smiled and thanked us.

I said I’d be back in about a week to which she said she looked forward to it. And then she nodded off again.

I went by to visit a few days ago. It was around 1pm. I had randomly picked the date and time. It had been a little more than a week since we had met. Upon arrival, there was no parking. I had never seen so many cars. I ended up parking in the back in a small field with a bunch of other cars.

Going in, the common area was packed with people. What had I stumbled upon? I sat down in a chair. It was a pastor giving a eulogy and telling some funny stories about someone. Occasionally, he would use a name – Miss J___ this or Miss J___ that. I started to listen.

She liked music, choral singing, and had been a choral director. She read many books over the years and had been a teacher off and on. She was an incredible conversationalist and storyteller. She had two daughters. She organized, during her many years at the facility, various activities and the like for residents. I listened some more. And then it hit me – is this the Miss J___ that I’m here to visit?

I couldn’t believe it. It was. I saw the daughter that I had worked with a week back. She gave me a slight wave. Oh no! Miss J___ was gone and I had only visited her once.

When the service was over, I made a phone call and confirmed. And then I spoke with one of the daughters. Miss J___ had had a difficult few days, was taken to hospital, was calmed down, and passed about ten minutes after both daughters had arrived.

Because she had been a long-time resident (almost since the beginning) of the facility, family thought it appropriate to have a memorial service in the common area for all of her friends and some family. It was nice.

I considered, as I sat and watched and listened, how God works with me. He puts me in places and situations that completely come as a surprise. I had no idea – I told the office and they apologized profusely that they hadn’t yet told me about Miss J___.

The daughter came up and hugged me. “We’re sad and she’s blessed,” the daughter said.


· 3 Comments. Posted in hospice.

Too Loud

ABPB1R / Man Covering His EarsHe said he was tired. He was thumbing through a set of movies in the living room. He said he likes to watch two movies each evening – that’s his routine. He then goes to bed at 10:30pm. He was fairly insistent that I not break this routine, thank you.

His wife was in the bedroom next to the living room. She was asleep and would probably not wake up again. She still had color in her face and, actually, looked pretty good. But we all knew that the toll was being taken slowly, surely, predictably. Her hair was combed and she had been set up on a pillow so she could “watch” TV. It was on and turned up quite loud. This was, he explained, her routine every night.

And so routine was the desire and expectation despite what was going to happen in a few days. He said this is how their evenings had been for as long as they had lived in their apartment – several years, at least.

I understood. While it might seem that one would be smothering the other one who is getting ready to pass, I remember how tired I was. My context and senses were set on NUMB. I understood, I think, the gravity of the situation but I simply didn’t have the energy to hover, grope, fear, worry. It wasn’t denial. Rather, it was like a trance. Autopilot. Zombie-like. Yes. I understood him. Completely.

And when I left, I sat down at a table in the waiting area and wept. His tears would come soon enough. But he was where he was – a place that’s pretty lonely and desolate. It would come. But for now, he was doing all he could do. And I hurt for him. I understood.

I left him as he started his second movie. She slept with her TV turned up too loud.

It’s Tues, May 20, at 3:15pm as I write this updating postscript. I just received word that she passed shortly after I left on Sat night last week. It was peaceful. She had her husband of 65 years at her side.

· Leave a comment. Posted in 250 words, grief, hospice.

Last Kiss

2014-03-19 20.18.16-1She kissed him not knowing what would happen to him through the night. It was late and she needed to be getting home. As much as she wanted to stay around, she was bone-weary and, as I had told her, it would not do him or her any good if she got too tired or even sick. She asked if I would walk her to her car in the parking lot and if I would stay another hour or two and then call her when I was leaving with an update on him. Of course I would do these things.

Before she left, she said, “Good night, W. I love you. Have a good rest.” With tired tears in her eyes, she kissed him goodnight. She turned and I walked her to her car.

As it turned out, this was the last time she was able to kiss W goodnight. Later the next day, he left us. Of course, it was sad for her but she had been through a lot in the past two years. She said she was sadly happy for him and now she could get some much needed rest. I understood.

He had attained the good rest. I prayed for him, too, before he left. I didn’t know him at all – I had been asked in to sit with him and her. It was a privilege. In the hours she and I spoke, I came to know them both very well. Nothing was left unsaid.

I hope he is resting well. And with her kiss marks still on his forehead.

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Looking Good

huspalice1In a recent edition of the the local Free-Lance Star, there was a short but inspirational article on hospice care. The essay was written by an employee of the local hospice organization but, also, and as she writes, she has depended on hospice twice Рonce for the care of her mother and once for the care of her husband. The author also references the bereavement services that hospice offers and which she has taken advantage of. The article is a nice reminder of the amazing and sacred work that a few do to care for those at end-of-life and hurting families.

One night, a nurse came into the room where I was sitting with a patient. It had been a quiet evening. The patient had not been with us for a few days – as it turned out, he only had another few hours. I had read him some Bible and some poetry and had simply sat by his bed. He was, thankfully, restful and peaceful. The kind nurse, upon entering, greeted me and asked if I needed anything, then looked at our friend and said, “We need to get you fixed up.” I wondered what she meant.

She reached into the drawer by the bed and pulled out a soft-bristled, baby hair brush. As she was talking with me, she leaned over our friend and gently brushed his hair down. She made him look so nice. She worked a minute or two, stepped back, looked, and decided it was combed pretty good.

“I like them to look and feel good, ” she said.

Yes, I thought. That’s what we do. Ever since, I make a habit of combing their hair. To make them look and feel good. At the end.

· Leave a comment. Posted in 250 words, hospice.

Restless Passage

rustlyeeA gentleman friend that some of us were working with this past week passed late last night. I was with him a few nights ago and was scheduled to be with him tonight (Thurs) and tomorrow night. I received word a few moments ago that I did not need to go over to the care facility. One of my companions was with him last evening until around 9pm and noticed some of the last signs. It was a few hours later that he left us.

We never met this man when he was awake and alert. We only knew him in his twilight sleep – mumbling, gurgling, and trying to reach for something or get out of bed. All of us noticed how restless he was in his disturbed sleep.

The social worker said he was “spiritually restless.” I asked her what she meant. She told me that quite often individuals, like our friend, who do not have a religious or spiritual background worry about dying. Just before our friend had lost his ability to communicate several days ago, he told our social worker that he didn’t want to be left alone. He didn’t have family or friends to be with him. That is when we were called in – to sit with him and read poetry, talk, or, as I often do, read Bible. I’ll say again – these places are sacred.

Anyway, my companion noticed last evening before she left that he had calmed down considerably. She put the nursing staff on alert and, sure enough, a few hours later he was gone.

I hope he found some kind of peace at the very end. God will sort it all out. I mourn the loss this morning.

· 1 Comment. Posted in daily goings on, hospice.

God Lean

20140211-221938.jpgI recently visited a patient. I have visited him several times in the past month. He is a gracious and friendly man. Once he is able to hear me, he can carry on quite a conversation. He is very hard of hearing so as long as I keep him entertained with questions that he is able to hear, he will talk and talk and all I need to do is listen. It works out well in the end – I don’t have to say much and he is able to spend some time talking about his past adventures as a union shop steward many years ago.

Anyway, we had spent some time together and a nurse came in the room – it was time for his bath. I told him I would be back to see him soon and patted him on the shoulder.

I said to him, “God bless you, sir.”

He looked at me and said, “I know you are a Christian. I can tell. I am, too. You are a good man. Thanks for visiting.”

I smiled and left.

And I have been thinking about his words ever since. Was his comment a chance and random comment by an old, silly man? Am I imagining that we are somehow connected through words, expressions, and mannerisms in our conversations? Do my words and his words combine to be God-words? Or is all of this fantastical?

Frankly, and for me, this is yet another example of a God-moment. These things pop up all of the time if I get out of the way and watch. I find God in these somewhat sad places waiting for who-knows-what? But he is there. And making contact with him takes my breath away. In my very aged friend, God exists and he speaks to me and keeps me on my toes and tells me that he cares and wants to be with me.

I don’t climb many thundering mountains or see many burning bushes, but you can bet I have my share of God-sightings. The most recent God-sighting was in an old chair, all wrinkled and sick, hard of hearing, and thankful for a visit.

I’m honored and humbled that God is leaning in on me.

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Every Sunday

medium_5626316429He is 94 years old and is living with her in assisted living. He gently pats his wife on the arm. She is sitting next to him in her wheelchair.

He says, “My girl is ninety-one years old. She married an older man.” He laughs.

“How long have you been married?” I ask loudly and slowly as I lean in. He is very hard of hearing.

“Seventy-one years. We’ve had our hard times but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We met in high school, you know? I knew she was the one and only when I met her.”

“What’s the secret?”

“Not taking anything too serious and going to church every Sunday. We went right over here, you know, for sixty years.” He gestures toward the window. “There were times we didn’t talk to each other for a day or so but we never had the energy to stay mad at each other for very long.”

She suffers from a debilitating brain disease and isn’t able to speak. She doesn’t have long. She can smile occasionally but other than that, she is pretty much propped up in her wheelchair and listens. Her eyes are gray, she has a disformed and distended mouth, she can’t move on her own, and she is leaning over and out in her chair. I help her get seated a bit straighter.

“She raised a fine family. She did it all.” He looks at her and pictures on the wall. “The kids are her joy.”

We talked about the Super Bowl. He isn’t able to find it on the TV. I knew it wasn’t on for another week but I helped him check the channels anyway.

· Leave a comment. Posted in 250 words, daily goings on, hospice.

Empty Bed

burgIt was early. I wanted to get settled in. I had some homework that I would be able to do after tending to him a bit – some talk, comb hair, check the log, make sure he was comfortable. It was going to be my third day on vigil. He was a tough individual. Hanging on. Sometimes people can hang on for quite awhile after the decision is made to not give water or food.

I had met the daughter. A hard-working federal employee, Prius-driving, commuting, middle-career, mother of teenagers and wife to another hard-charging government employee. Despite their busy schedules, they had all made much time to care for her father. It was gratifying to see their love and concern for someone who wasn’t able to give back any longer. She told me stories and showed me some pictures and, basically, had spent about two hours venting and talking one evening. She hadn’t been home yet, was still dressed from work, and really needed to get dinner ready for the boys. That was a day or two ago.

She wanted light, ambient music to be playing in the background so her music player was on his bed stand with the CD in replay mode. It was playing low each time I visited. It was soothing. A few pictures were hanging on the wall. One was of him in his very young days as a pilot – brash, handsome, wavy hair, piercing eyes.

I arrived early but the bed was empty.

· 3 Comments. Posted in 250 words, hospice.