This is a story about a man we’ll call “Grumpy” for now. Grumpy lived his long life in Whitman County, and although he did die while under hospice care, when death came to him, he was no longer grumpy. I met this man years ago, at an assisted living center, while I was serving as a volunteer hospice chaplain. His story is not unique to him. It was loss after loss. In retirement, he had lost much that had given his life meaning. The love of his life had died a few years before. His beloved daughter was now living on the East Coast, and her successful career left little time for him. After a mishap or two, his right to drive was taken from him. The final straw came after a number of falls led to his being moved out of the only home he had ever known. How could any one blame the old man for being grumpy? “I might as well be dead,” was the theme running through his head.
Soon after Grumpy moved into a very nice assisted living home, I had the (to me questionable privilege) to be the first hospice volunteer to pay him a visit.
Chaplain Bob: “I haven’t been here before. This is a nice place!”
Grumpy: “Try living here! You wouldn’t like it much.”
Bob: “You have a great view from your window.”
Grumpy: “I had much better views from my house.”
Bob: “That television your son gave you is much nicer than my own.”
Grumpy: “It has too many channels, and they’re all junk.”
You get the idea. This went on for a full hour.
Volunteers ask the same question as they’re leaving a visit. “Would you like me to return next week?” I asked him, really, really hoping he’d say, “Don’t bother.” But Grumpy replied “yes.” (I don’t think he saw my shoulders sag in disappointment.) “Then next week it is,” I said to Grumpy.
Each visit got far less negative and therefore much more enjoyable. The Hospice team began to lift Grumpy out of the doldrums. In his isolation, he had not been receiving proper medical care. He had painful wounds to prove this. Hospice nurses entered his lfie and the healing began. And two hospice volunteers were assigned to him with great results. One was a man of Grumpy’s age, but this fellow was the opposite of grumpy. The two were both raised in Whitman county, and they had a great deal to share.
His second volunteer was a lovely, middle aged, retired school teacher who reminded our now less than grumpy friend of his beloved daughter. They had wonderful visits, and she brought him chocolate. The only thing that each of us came to know was that we must not show up during his favorite game shows.
Over time, just as the candle of the man’s life was getting shorter, Grumpy disappeared, and a joyful and loving man came to take his place. When death came to claim him, as it does for us all, his passing was what we would call “a good death.” The hospice team transformed this life just as it has been doing for others over a great many years.
Guest Blog by:
Friends of Hospice Board President