One thing about working in hospice is seeing people near death and at death. With relatively new patients who come to hospice near the end of their lives, there is not much time to develop relationships and really get to know the patient and family.
One patient, who I’ll call Jack, didn’t seem close to dying when I met him, his wife, and one of his daughters at my initial visit. Jack liked to talk, and told me a lot about his life. He was a conservative Christian and I’m liberal, but I saw many things in common that we would be able to talk about. I offered to share some of my favorite books with him. At the end of our visit, his wife asked if I could come every week. I told her I would come as often as I could.
Before my next scheduled visit, Jack’s condition changed dramatically, and he became unconscious. I called his family and stopped by to see him. His other daughter was there this time, and we talked. I stood at Jack’s bedside and prayed for him and talked to him. He died a few days later, and I was sorry for the relationship that didn’t have time to develop and the conversations we didn’t get to have.
Other patients stay longer and are able to use the services offered. It is those patients who we develop relationships with. That was the case with one I’ll call Mary. At our first meeting, Mary told me that she knew she was going to die and accepted that. She was grateful for the extra time she had now, however long or short it was. She told me she liked me and looked forward to seeing me again.
We saw each other twice a month, and it was a joy each time. Mary didn’t have much pain, and she loved every person who came to see her. We had marvelous conversations about her life, her faith and her family. She always asked me how I was, and I shared my joys about my family and my life with her. She always thanked me for coming and told me how much my visits meant to her.
A little over a week before she died, Mary went with relatives to see the newest baby born into the family. She loved her visit and picked up muffins from a favorite bakery on the way home. She had been growing weaker, and this last week she asked for me before becoming unconscious. I saw her and talked to her about our wonderful relationship, my fondness for her, and the love her family had for her. Her nephew and his wife shared their photos of Mary with her family at their visit. We talked about how amazing she was and how much they cared for her.
Mary died last night, peacefully and gently. I am sad and relieved at the same time, knowing that her condition had deteriorated and the pain had come.
Goodbye to my dear patients. Thank you for sharing yourselves with me for a short time or a long time. I will not forget you, and I am grateful.