On Tuesday this week I reached a milestone: 18 months since Bruce’s passing.
It was a different experience than last year when the loss was so fresh. Looking back at my journal for that day, I recalled so many sensory details, the small events that made up the day, the sense that time was moving at an irregular and erratic rate. Bruce was “pretty far under,” not able to communicate even with hand squeezes. His brother Ken, who’d arrived in Walla Walla the night before, visited that morning on his way home to Portland.
Once Ken had left I went through the ritual of opening our Christmas presents, thanking Bruce for the things he’d ordered for me a couple of weeks earlier and telling him about the gifts I’d chosen for him. He’d wanted a new lap robe for winter evenings in the recliner, when he’d read to me and the 4-legged kids, and had been very specific about the design: one color, no fringe, not too big. I rubbed the dark blue fleece on his hands so he could feel how soft it was. At five minutes to midnight, he was gone.
I’m sorry. That’s so sad.
Thanks, Lily. Yes, it was sad, but it was also the time when I felt my love for Bruce more deeply than ever. Hard to explain, but. . .
That’s okay. You don’t have to.
To commemorate the 18-month milestone I decided to do something positive and forward-moving. June 23, 2020, is the day I started online training as a volunteer for Walla Walla Community Hospice.
Isn’t that kind of hard on you?
No, Lily, not at all. Some of the videos I’ve watched with personal stories of hospice patients and their families have made me teary-eyed, but I’m smiling, too. Hospice is a holistic approach to making what’s left of a terminally ill person’s life as fulfilling as possible. A team of specialists work together to address physical, emotional and spiritual pain, but there’s more to it than that. The patient decides what’s important to them for the time they have left. I know it’s hard to think about dying when you’re fourteen- –
Or nine. So think of it this way: if this was your very last day, what would you want to do?
I’d read. And I’d make a batch of streusel topping and sneak it up to my room.
Not me. I’d go to the park and recite Viola’s monologue from “Twelfth Night” to anyone who walked by! I’d wear my poets blouse and braid my hair a couple of hours earlier so when I brushed it out it would be big and frizzy for the performance.
See, it’s not so hard to imagine. In one of the stories I watched, a man who only had a few months left made it his goal to go to every one of his twin high school senior sons’ football games. Lots of people from the community pitched in and helped him achieve his goal.
It makes me choke up just thinking about that- -end of life dreams achieved with the help of others. Bruce’s time was very short, 12 days from prognosis to death, but he did set goals for himself. He was in the hospital when we learned he had ten days to two weeks, so his major goal was getting home. We had a week there together, with our pets to comfort him and some wonderful visits from friends. His second goal was to see his brothers, both of whom lived a few hundred miles away. In spite of icy roads, the tight time frame and the encroaching holiday season, they both made it in time.
Hospice made our time at home possible, with medical and counseling support, providing medicines to control pain and home health equipment to make Bruce as comfortable as possible. The CNA was there every weekday morning to bathe him and change the linens on the hospital bed. The on-call nurse helped me through a series of rapidly evolving crises, both over the phone and in person. When I asked her what to do when Bruce died she said “Call me. I’ll take care of everything.”
There’s so much more I could say but I’ve said it all before. The important thing now is, I’m ready to joyfully give back to patients and families who need someone like me to help make the end of life as good as possible.
But you’re not a nurse or a CNA or a social worker. What kind of a specialist are you?
Good question, 9. I’m training to be a patient support volunteer. My job is mostly to provide respite for the patient’s caregivers. I’ll visit with the patient- -talk to them and, if they want, read to them, so their family members can take a break and won’t have to worry that their loved one will be lonely. It might involve helping with gardening or taking care of the patient’s pets if needed.
You could even recite Viola’s monologue!
I could, Lily, if there was demand for it. The way I see it, it’s about getting to know someone at a very interesting time of their life. That’s really my specialty, regarding a terminally ill person as being a complete, fascinating person with a lot to share. I have no idea why I’m like that, but I’m like that.
I believe it’s a gift that’s important to share.
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