My Great Aunt Alice was a pretty healthy 87 years old.  She was spunky.  I really thought I’d be submitting her picture to the Today show for the Smuckers jar profile when she turned 100.

Then one a rainy day in April, I received the dreaded phone call.  Aunt Alice had a sudden brain aneurysm and went into a coma. When I went to visit her, she wasn’t well. Her breathing was labored, and the family knew it was close to the end.

Her brother, sister and a couple of my cousins were there.   We were her closest relatives as  she didn’t have any children.  The hospital told us that there was nothing that we could do, and they suggested we transfer Aunt Alice to hospice care.

In hospice, the nurse told us that Aunt Alice could hear us and that we should still talk to her.  My great uncle (her brother) didn’t really believe the nurse, but he made an effort anyway.  He told her he loved her and that he would miss her. I did believe that my aunt could still hear me, and I whispered to her.  I told her I believed everything would be ok, that it was alright for her to go and that I loved her.

Still, for hours we sat there while she was just barely hanging on.  Watching.  Waiting. Why?  We asked, “Why hasn’t she passed?”  The hospice nurse said sometimes the patient is waiting for someone to come visit. Who could it possibly be? Everyone who could be there was.

My cousin Jim was convinced it was his dog P.J.,  and he decided to drive home to get the dog.  Really, Aunt Alice would have been appalled at the thought of a dog in the hospital, but Jim probably needed a break from the situation.

For hours, I sat next to my aunt and held her hand and watched her slowly breathe in and out.  The nurse would come in periodically to check on my aunt, but there was little change.

My back was to the door when I heard a new voice.  A woman entered the room and said softly, “Hi. I’m Norma. I’m Alice’s minister.”  We were surprised to see her because none of us had thought to call the church.  Because we weren’t religious, we forgot that Aunt Alice might want the prayers.

Norma then walked over to the bed to check on Aunt Alice.  I will never forget that it was at that very moment when Norma had arrived that Aunt Alice stopped breathing.  The minister said, “I think she is gone” and started praying for her.  The rest of us all looked around at each other, for we suddenly realized Aunt Alice had been waiting for God.

Lizzy Miles 2011

Lizzy Miles

Lizzy Miles

Lizzy Miles has been to more funerals than weddings in her life. She stopped counting her losses and started counting her “angels” when she reached double digits. Inspired by her comforting and positive experiences with hospice staff, Lizzy decided to pay it forward and become a hospice volunteer. She found that work so rewarding that she determined that her life's purpose was to work in hospice. She made a mid-life career change and quit her marketing job of twelve years to return to school to become a hospice social worker. While she was an intern for hospice, she organized an event where she helped a 91-year old hospice patient ski again. She has a Master's degree in Communication and one in Social Work. She is currently a hospice social worker and the networking chair for ADEC, the Association for Death Education and Counseling.

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