This is an excerpt from Larry Patten’s A Companion for the Hospice Journey, which is available on Amazon or though his website Hospice Matters.
Several years ago, our hospice team gathered to discuss the day’s work. Not long after we began, a veteran nurse wept when sharing about the death of one of her assigned patients. It was a child, not yet school age. The nurse had cared for and supported her tiny patient since birth.
How can any infant or child (and their families) be burdened with the phrase, “hospice appropriate?” And yet they are.
Family, friends, doctors and nurses knew this day would come. Born with a life-limiting illness, and given the best possible medical care and an abundance of love, there was no hope for the child to reach the teen years, let alone a life with benchmarks like a high school graduation or first job. However, I’m confident prayers for a miracle were whispered. Bargains were made with God. Any optimistic hint from a doctor’s comments, or rumors of new experimental treatments, was enthusiastically grasped.
The child died. And that nurse wept.
Everyone knew it would happen. No one was prepared.
If the death didn’t happen last year, it could be this year, or month, or week. But death came on this day, and a child’s moments on earth ended, still young enough so that anyone could easily count the literal number of days lived.
+ + +
Later in the week I contacted a hospice client, checking on how she was doing. Her mother had died about six weeks ago, just as the weather started warming. She barely survived a first Easter without her mother and now, like a wrecking ball swinging towards her, Mother’s Day loomed. All special days (both the national holidays and the ones unique to each family) are a tough time for grievers. There are decades of fond memories, of meals shared and gifts exchanged and kids becoming adults, as they wrestle with the new memory of . . . the-day-Mom-died. That day won’t appear on anyone’s calendar. But for one family, the date is branded on their hearts.
Her mom was 90 years old. She’d lived a vibrant, exuberant life. Dearly loved by her family, she’d helped raise kids, grandkids and even a few great-grandkids. But the woman I talked with, her daughter, a late-fifties adult with her own lifetime mix of sorrow and joy, success and failure, was stunned by the death. She said of her mother, “I’ve lost one of my best friends.
“I just wanted her for one more day . . .”
She also shared frustration at the reaction from friends and co-workers. Upon learning her mother’s age at death, some expressed a variation of, “Oh, I’m so sorry she died, but she lived a long life and I’m sure you’re glad she’s not suffering.”
They couldn’t understand why, weeks and weeks later, the daughter still cried. Get over it, they said. Get on with your life, they said. She was trying! She didn’t dwell on her mother’s death, but she certainly felt hurt and loss and sadness.
+ + +
A hospice chaplain colleague shared that she’d visited one of the funeral homes in the area. One of our patients had worked there for many years. The chaplain stopped by to say hello to the funeral director and to express sympathies following the employee’s death. Everyone in the office was crying, the chaplain said. Every single one. These were professionals. These were people that handled death in every phone call, every office visit, and every business transaction.
I recall hearing about a time my boss—a grief counselor with a well-deserved reputation in our community—visited an assisted living facility to speak with the staff. When the facility had experienced the deaths of several long-time, well-liked residents, the staff was reeling. Their boss called my boss. But weren’t they accustomed to loss? Didn’t they see dying and death on a regular basis?
However, this time it seemed too much, and the facility sought to help them understand their emotions as they—health care professionals all—were confronted by grief.
+ + +
As we rightly say about grieving: it’s different for everyone. A child dies. We knew it would happen. And yet a hospice nurse, who has seen hundreds of deaths, still cries. A child, now fully grown and with her own grown children, is staggered by her mother’s death. Employees weep. Professionals cry.
It is like this. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others. Grief, like the love that created it, never cares about clocks or calendars.
A Companion for the Hospice Journey received Honorable Mention in the 2019 Writer’s Digest awards for self-publishing. It has been recommended by nationally-known writers involved with dying, death, and grief. Armen Bacon, author of Griefland has said that “Laced throughout this beautiful book is the constant reminder that life is precious and worthy of our full attention both while living and when dying.”
Hospice Matters link: