In two days, I will celebrate my dad’s birthday – February 8. He would have been 98 this year, but he died in 2014. He lived a good, long life, and we became closer as he and I both grew older. There were less arguments and more shared experiences.
I’ve been thinking about him, as I always do in February. One of my favorite memories is of him being called to give blood (his blood type was harder to find). He would go to wherever he was called, and he inspired me to start giving blood when I was old enough.
It has been years since I’ve donated, after a few rejections for anemia and such. This year, I said, I would try again, for Dad. And this year, there was a blood drive at my place of work, on a day I was working. I made an appointment, showed up, and was told that my blood was fine for donating now. It was easy, and as I left, I thought, “This one’s for you, Dad.”
I think of my parents (both gone now) a lot as I interact with my hospice patients. Some, older, remind me of my parents. Others are younger, and I think of parents losing adult children, as mine did. My mom told me she was never supposed to outlive her children, but she did – twice. This week, a mother lost her son, only in his fifties, to the destruction of alcohol. I thought of my younger brother, also in his fifties when he died of liver cancer, his body weakened from years of substance abuse.
But these two men, my patient and my brother, were so much more than their addictions. They were beloved sons and brothers, uncles and friends. They were young once, and their parents were full of hope for their futures. They were loved, and they are still.
When I met my patient a few short weeks ago, I liked him immediately. He seemed genuinely pleased to have a visitor at the facility where he lived. We fell into easy conversation. He showed me the photograph of his nephew, and beamed with pride. He talked a little about the rest of his family. He asked me to come back, saying that he wanted to explore more about his faith and his life.
That wasn’t to be. At my next visit, he was unconscious and the conversation was one-sided. I told him how much he was loved and how God loved him unconditionally. I said that I had wanted to have more conversations with him, to go deeper and share more. I thanked him for being open and welcoming with me. I prayed for his peace of mind and comfort of body.
He died two days later. I pray for his mother, his father, and the rest of his family. I know a little something of their grief, although all of us grieve differently, and each story is personal. I hope that I was able to give my patient a brief respite from his illness, an interlude of unconditional positive regard in our conversation.