I remember well the day Nate and I signed up with Hospice. He would have only 16 days of their tender, loving care, but when we first met with them, none of us knew that.
We hadn’t told Nate the Hospice nurse was coming that day because after mentioning the possibility earlier, his response had been negative. But his doctors had encouraged us to call them anyway, telling us we’d soon need their services.
I kept watch through the window to catch her on the front sidewalk, because I wanted to warn her Nate was negative about Hospice. Surely, I thought, most patients feel that same way, not wanting yet another sign that death was imminent.
When I saw her drive up, I walked out to explain and noticed she was wearing an ID badge with the word “HOSPICE” in bold print across the top. “Do you have to wear that?” I asked.
She put her hand on my arm and quietly said, “Don’t worry. I’ll explain everything to him.” I followed her through the front door, in doubt about that.
Immediately after introductions, Nate noticed the badge. “So you’re from Hospice?” he asked her directly, and sitting by his side, I felt like two cents. I should have been willing to do the hard part ahead of time and tell him the whole truth.
“Yes I am,” she said. “Let’s start by you telling me what you already know about our organization.” And the conversation was up and running. Her main mission was to describe the specific ways Hospice could be of practical help to Nate and the rest of us. As he listened, I could see him melting into the idea.
He signed the living will without hesitation, and although the meeting had been stressful, he didn’t say a negative word after the nurse had gone. In the days that followed, we watched the amazing Hospice personnel minister to our family with so much compassion that we eagerly anticipated each visit, whether it was the aide to help with baths, the nurse to bring meds or the doctor to examine him.
Today we attended a “Service of Remembrance” at the local Hospice headquarters. Anyone mourning the loss of a loved one in the last year was invited to attend and bring a small item representing that person. If they chose, they could get up and talk for a few minutes about the one they loved. About 75 people came, representing 17 former Hospice patients.
When we walked in, I was feeling strong, but seeing a fresh box of tissues on every fourth chair gave a clue as to what was ahead. There was singing, prayer and encouragement from the bereavement coordinator before the sharing began. Some talked with vigor; others broke down. One young woman told of both parents passing away only six weeks earlier from different diseases. A family with two young children sat in front of us, son, daughter, dad, grandma and grandpa. The mother had died.
Ten people shared briefly while the audience pulled tissues from the Kleenex boxes. I brought a pack of Post-Its and a pen to represent Nate, telling how he managed his life with a few notes and a sharp mind. As I described missing the thinking half of our marriage whole, I couldn’t finish without my own tears, but I did get in the part about Nate’s name being written in the Lamb’s Book of Life with God’s pen, not his own. When I sat down, Klaus put a comforting arm around me, and Mary’s presence, coming all the way from Chicago just for the service, lifted me also.
As we drank coffee afterwards and chatted with Nate’s Hospice doctor (who remembered him well), I knew I’d always love Hospice. And if I ever become terminally ill, I’ll call them myself.
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another’.” (Zechariah 7:9)