This is a brilliant, heart-warming, and insightful book full of stories from his experiences as a Hospice Volunteer and as a Hospice Patient...

This is a brilliant, heart-warming, and insightful book full of stories from his experiences as a Hospice Volunteer and as a Hospice Patient-Contact Volunteer, as well as from memories that were shared with him by family members that had a loved one that was cared for in Hospice. This book highlights the care and compassion that Hospice offers to the dying and their family members.
 
Maureen P. Keeley, Ph.D.
Professor of Communication
Texas State University

       The woman had been non-communicative and sleeping long hours for several days when one of my hospice’s volunteers, Janet, came to vis...

Baby Deer Fawn in Ohio



       The woman had been non-communicative and sleeping long hours for several days when one of my hospice’s volunteers, Janet, came to visit her at the hospice house. The weather was perfect so Janet helped the hospice house aide bring her out to the back patio, in her hospital bed, to enjoy the weather.  

     As Janet closed the hospice facility’s patio door she noticed a deer and her fawn observing everything from the edge of the woods fifty feet away. Janet softly told the woman that a mother deer and her fawn want to visit. The woman very slowly moved her hand through the bedrail. Janet thought that she did this possibly to let her arm dangle in order to better feel the gentle breeze.

     Janet noticed that the mother and fawn were slowly approaching. The little one continued onto the patio while the mother stayed back. The fawn, leaning against the bedrail, walked the length of the woman’s bed gently letting the woman’s hand glide along its head. Janet noticed the sleeping woman faintly smile. The fawn then scampered back to its mother. Janet stood transfixed. A moment later the woman took a deep breath, as if giving a sigh of relief, then died.

     My hospice’s facility is not on a busy street. In my heart I believe that the location was Divine Intervention so that all of His creation, even a little fawn, could help comfort not only those on our hospice service, but also their families, our staff and volunteers.    

     A little boy went to the cemetery with his dad on Memorial Day to visit his grandpa’s grave. His grandpa had been killed in combat. The...

grave, boy


     A little boy went to the cemetery with his dad on Memorial Day to visit his grandpa’s grave. His grandpa had been killed in combat. There was a flag next to the headstone. “Is this the only day we take time to remember the people who died while in the military?” he asked his dad. 


     “Every day is Memorial Day for us who lost family.” His dad replied.


     Any hospice organization has had veterans of combat on service. Most of these veterans have never been able to leave the trauma of combat behind. It is not by choice that the memories have stayed with them their entire life. And so it is with the surviving family and friends back home of someone who was killed in combat. The feeling of loss has stayed with many of them their entire life, as well. 


     Most hospice’s offer a grief service that is opened to anyone who has suffered a loss; particularly someone who has suffered a loss that they are told  they should “be over it” by now.


     Memorial Day was established to honor those who have died while serving in the United States military. It might also be a day that maybe we, who have not had a close family member die in combat, call someone who has. Where do soldier, marine, airmen, sailor, and Coast Guard combat casualties come from? They come from families. The survivors of someone being remembered on Memorial Day may carry the war with them for the rest of their lives, just as surviving combat veterans do.


     If you know of someone who lost a person during military service, call them and mentioned the deceased by name. Let them know that their loved one is remembered, and not just on Memorial Day.

       It took a long time for me to realize the significance of Memorial Day. All through childhood and into midlife, Memorial Day consiste...

 

parade

     It took a long time for me to realize the significance of Memorial Day. All through childhood and into midlife, Memorial Day consisted of a small parade from downtown to the veterans section of the cemetery. Then, a little while later, there was the distant boom of a 21 gun salute. And by noon it was the Indy 500 and a big cookout. But over the years as I’ve learned so much from the veterans we have on service at FAIRHOPE Hospice my way of “celebrating” Memorial Day has changed. 

     I wonder how the families who lost someone in the military, especially combat, feel about Memorial Day. It truly takes a family to defend a nation because those in the military come from families. I saved an article that was in a special issue of Newsweek magazine featuring an interview with a Vietnam veteran, who was 21 year old when the described firefight occurred. In it, he described his experience as to how combat in Vietnam occurred. It follows:

     “We were brought into La Drang on a Huey helicopter, and I had a few minutes to stand around and look at the area, which was just like every other operation in Vietnam. It was jungle. I was an assistant machine gunner that day with my friend Russ [ . . . ]. We traded off manning the weapon every other day. We barely had time to get our bearings when we came under heavy fire. And when the firing started, it wasn’t like a sniper shot or anything. It was bullets and bombs and grenades and everything going off simultaneously”.

     “And all at once, everyone around me is getting shot. My friend [ . . . ]was right in front of me and he got machine-gunned across the stomach. He dropped at my feet and was screaming for his mom. It was like something in a movie. You just can’t believe your eyes or your ears. And there were other guys just lying there dead, still in firing positions. So that scared the hell out of me. At that moment, my instincts and adrenaline just took over. I just ran, following Russ Adams, who was heading for the mountains with the machine gun. Since I had all the ammo, and the only weapon I had on me was my .45, It seemed like the place to go.”

     A friend of mine is a Civil War buff and he told me of letters he’s seen from soldiers of that war describing combat in much the same way as describe by the Vietnam veteran. Even though a mission might have been initiated exactly as scheduled, with a goal and a distinct plan of how to achieve it, once the battle erupted it was pure mayhem.

     Some of the aging spouses, and children, of those killed in combat are not able to get to the cemetery. Some may be having a difficult emotional time visiting the grave site. Maybe this year, before the cookout, feel free to thank a person who gave everything by going out to any cemetery. Find a veteran’s gravestone, or plaque, and clean around the site. That’s all.

      Such a simple gesture may have a profound effect on the surviving family, should they find out. And it may help you in that you aren’t saying, “Thanks for your service, I like tomato on my hamburger. “ but actually showing your gratitude. True gratitude is an action word.

    Every holiday has its meal for family and friends to gather around. For this Memorial Day, I’m not saying to give up the grill. I am suggesting considering making the cookout something for the end of the day, not the purpose of the day.    

     


       There are a lot of articles written about the hospice philosophy, hospice care, who is eligible for hospice care, etc. But not many a...

 

two happy elderly women spending time with each other at home


     There are a lot of articles written about the hospice philosophy, hospice care, who is eligible for hospice care, etc. But not many articles are written about humor, or laughter, in the hospice setting.  Having been a hospice patient care volunteer for over 20 years and a paid employee for over 11 years, I know that hospice is serious business. I also know that hospice, especially the one where I volunteer, celebrates life. And life may involve laughter, but hospice is no laughing matter, is it?

     Of course, we’ve all heard the overworked phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine.” It may be an overworked phrase, but it is also a well documented truth. Laughter is just as necessary in life as are tears. A friend of mine told me that laughter may be the best medicine, but if you are really sick, maybe you should call a doctor. Good advice.

     It is important to know that used correctly, humor does not disrespect the situation nor diminish its gravity. It can allow what is happening to begin to be discussed. Humor may open the door to acceptance and healing. It is up to those involved to find the humor is any given situation.

    Humor may be in the form of a funny situation or a joke. In my case I can never remember a joke so years ago I began writing them down after I heard one that I liked. I’ve kept those jokes in a binder. After I get to know a patient and it seems like the right thing to do (sometimes it is not), I will bring that binder with me when I visit them. I’ll ask the patient and family if they’d mind if I read from my binder. It has never failed when I bring the joke binder we all have a great time. They invariably tell me that they haven’t had a good laugh like that in quite a while.

     There was a particular family I visited as a patient care volunteer who requested what they called, a “groaner-type” joke when I arrived for my weekly visit. A groaner-type joke would be for example, “Why did the cowboy buy a Dachshund?” Answer, “Because he wanted to get a ‘long little doggy’” (groan). 

     When I would arrive to visit, his wife would answer the door and ask,” Do you know any groaners?” I would answer, “Yes. Did you hear about the man who was reading a book on antigravity? He just couldn’t put it down.” She’d laugh and ask me, ”Did you hear about the Siamese twins who moved to England…so the other one could drive?” Then we’d go back to the patient’s room and he couldn’t wait to hear the jokes. He’d always have one ready. For example, “The waiter asked the teddy bear, after his dinner, if he wanted dessert. ‘No thanks, I’m stuffed.’ The teddy bear replied.” The whole situation was fun to me. I remember thinking that I never thought that I would have so much fun visiting a patient. 

     Exchanging bad jokes was fun and it made the patient, his wife, and I think of a silly joke before my weekly visit. There is no doubt that he and his wife were having fun too. Yes, the patient and spouse knew he was terminally ill but we had fun in spite of it. 

     One of my hospice chaplains, Karl, tells the story of a terminally ill patient who is lying in his bed at home and smells the aroma of cookies wafting through the house.

     “Honey,” he calls out, “Those cookies smell so good, may I have one?”
     “Certainly not,” she replies, “Those are for your wake!”

     In one study of humor in the hospice setting it was determined that humor helped to maintain a sense of belonging. It helped patients to relax. It offered a feeling of warmth, lightheartedness, and delight. Humor was a life-enricher and a life enhancer. 

          A study done on nurse-based home visits found that humor was present in 85% of 132 observed home hospice visits. Of these visits, hospice patients initiated humor 70% of the time. In this study, and others as well, humor was spontaneous and frequent.

     A while back, I was accompanying one of my hospice’s nurses while she visited a patient in their home. The family pet was a cockatiel (a bird similar to a parrot). The family would leave the bird cage door open so that the bird could get out and stretch if it wanted to. While our nurse was sitting next to the patient the bird flew over and landed on the nurse’s shoulder. Without hesitation the nurse put her hand over her eye and said, “Aye, matey.” as if she were a pirate. Everyone had a good laugh.

     Instances of humorous interactions between hospice personnel and patients can be a prevalent part of everyday care giving work. According to the researcher in the study mentioned above, “Our research suggests that nurses and other healthcare professionals don’t need to suppress humor. They should trust their instincts about when it is appropriate.” 

     Humor shows the human side of hospice’s staff. It is also an important aspect of communication. Patients will observe the nurse or aide for a response to humor. An open accepting response to humor signals understanding. While a negative or no response may serve to isolate the patient.

     The hospice where I volunteer helps people to celebrate life. One way to celebrate life is to enjoy the moment, regardless of the circumstance. Laughter is a very effective way to do that. I’m often asked, “How can you work in hospice? Isn’t it sad?” It’s hard to believe that not only is it very rewarding to volunteer with hospice, but sometimes it can also be fun. Yes, laughing matters.
      


  It was difficult emotionally but my wife, a nurse, knew she must care for Julie, her actively dying sister. Over the next few weeks my wif...

 


It was difficult emotionally but my wife, a nurse, knew she must care for Julie, her actively dying sister. Over the next few weeks my wife, Vickie, tended to Julie in a way only a sister could. Julie had said after more than a decade of fighting her disease she was done. After accepting FAIRHOPE’s service she was brought home. During the next two weeks Vickie very softly prayed to herself “Thy will be done” as she cared for Julie. Being a retired nurse Vickie had frequently witnessed those times to be born and those times to die. 

As the end seemed close the thought occurred to her to do something with Julie’s hair. She knew Julie was going to Heaven but also knew Julie wouldn’t want to go anywhere with “her hair looking like that”. Julie was motionless and it appeared that her Hour had come so Vickie decided not to disturb her. 

The next morning brought a perfect Fall day; clear skies and a gentle breeze. In late morning while alone with her comatose sister Vickie said, “Julie, let’s do something with your hair”. She turned on a local Christian radio station. While reminiscing out loud about their childhood she shampooed Julie’s hair, dried it, and brushed it the way Julie liked. Leaning over she whispered to Julie, “There, you look good for Jesus. It’s okay to go.” 

Within minutes, she noticed that Julie quit breathing. In the background the song “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott was repeating the refrain, “Thy will be done”. Julie was in His embrace.

Laying her head on Julie’s shoulder Vickie cried.

The end of life is a spiritual event and nothing else.

  Many visitors don’t know that we have a resident cat, Chester, at The Pickering House. And that is just fine with him. I might point out t...

 

cat paws, older lady

Many visitors don’t know that we have a resident cat, Chester, at The Pickering House. And that is just fine with him. I might point out that since its opening the Pickering House has been meticulously cleaned daily to protect anyone with animal allergies.  

When Chester was still “new in these parts”, a woman was admitted to The Pickering House for end of life care. Arriving at The Pickering House, her daughter followed as the nurse and aide accompanied the patient into her room. Chester quietly followed the entourage into the room and lay down at the daughter’s feet. A fast friendship developed. 

During this stage of life, the illness may not be the problem. The problem may be relationships, whether with family or wih God. In this case, the mother and daughter had a few issues to work out and lengthy discussions took place in the room. Chester was always at the daughter’s feet.      

Several days after her arrival, the mother died. The daughter, of course, was upset and went to The Pickering House’s Sun Room to be alone. As she slumped into a chair crying, Chester, who followed her to the room jumped onto her lap and began to meow softly. For almost an hour as the emotion ran its course, Chester held on, resting his head on her stomach and softly meowing. 

That was the first time any of our staff saw Chester console anyone, but it is a scenario that is now seen more frequently. Everyone at FAIRHOPE Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc. is available to offer comfort, even our cat.