Two weeks ago on New Years Eve day, I lost my first hospice patient. I visited with Lucy for almost a year, a blessing in hospice work. I spent a lot of time with her and her family, first starting in direct patient volunteering and then shifting to pet therapy once she moved into a group home.
It was a truly amazing experience.
I joined Hospice of the Valley as a volunteer not only because they are a truly incredible organization, but also because I wanted to work on my views and perspectives about loss and death. Loss and abandonment are two issues from my childhood that I have always struggled with, so I figured I could work to learn a lesson while giving something back.
The roller coaster of her health was gut wrenching, but we all know that no one lives forever. She was doing great for weeks and months, and then I missed one of my weekly visits and was told that she took a downward turn.
I rushed over to see her between meetings on a workday, the day before New Years Eve Day. Dexter, my dog and I were excited to see her. He even did his happy dance that he does when I get his vest out. I’m not sure he truly knows what it means, but he does know that it means good things.
We walked into her room, and I burst into tears. Lying in her bed, she didn’t look like Lucy. She didn’t smile and say, “Oh, hello,” as if she was thrilled to see us but slightly surprised that she didn’t know we were coming. She didn’t even know we were there. Ten days earlier, she lit up the room with her smile, and today she was no longer Lucy.
I don’t know what compelled me to visit her that day, but I was glad I did when I found out early the next morning she had passed. I had planned to visit her again on New Years Day, and didn’t know when I said goodbye the day before, that it would be the final one.
Again, I cried.
I had plans and tried to pull myself together and did a reasonably ok job, but I knew I really had to get a grip before my visit to see the family. It was then that I was blessed with another gift.
Her husband told me everything from the last day and I barely kept it together. He was so happy he was there with her in her final moments, and so grateful for the experience. And he was ready to let her go. “It was time,” he said. “She fought so hard for so long, and it was her time.”
I’ve heard the words before, but never have I truly felt them. Looking at his face, he looked so serene and so at peace. He just lost the woman that he spent over sixty years of his life with, and he was grateful to have been there in her final moments.
I will always share a piece of my heart with Lucy. Until now, writing this post, I haven’t cried again for her loss since the day I heard about it. Instead I smile when I think of some of the funny things she said, the way she would light up when she’d she Dexter and me, and the way she’d say, “Oh hello, heh, heh,” when Dexter would nudge her to remind her that he’d love some more attention.
Death is the ultimate goodbye, and the ultimate abandonment.
I’ve already reached out to my hospice coordinator to let him know I’m ready for my next assignment.
What a gift.