Our Featured Topic: The Value of Serving Others
I had been thinking about becoming a hospice volunteer for a while. It would come as a passing thought that I would consider and then put aside. Little did I know how quickly and how clearly my decision would be made.
Our hospice house is on the outskirts of town surrounded by farm fields and trees. It looks like a home – not a place of death. I had a tour shortly before it opened, but had no other contact with it, other than to read the obituaries of many a local who had spent their last days and hours there.
I had experienced death in the most painful of ways. My oldest daughter, Elizabeth, died very suddenly and unexpectedly in 2003 from a fire while attending college.
Almost eight years have passed since that fateful day, and I have come to accept that the physical presence of my beautiful daughter is gone forever. Her spirit, however, continues to burn bold and bright in my life, giving me much needed comfort and peace.
A couple months ago, my 82-year-old mother-in-law, Betty, fell and shattered her hip. She had surgery the following day, but her recovery became a rocky road. Ongoing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and congestive heart failure, were wrecking havoc with her recovery. She would recover enough to move to a rehab center and then breathing issues would ensue, necessitating a return to the hospital. This cycle went on for a month.
It became increasingly clear that her hip was healing nicely, but her breathing issues were not. In fact, they were chronic, and would not improve — only get worse. Betty was completely exhausted and we could all see that she could fight no longer.
We quickly realized that the best thing for Betty was a move to hospice to be pain free and comfortable. All we wanted was rest and peace for Betty, the matriarch of our family — a woman who was widowed at the young age of 50 and had raised eight children.
I wasn’t that close to my mother-in-law, even though I had been a part of her family for over 30 years. Yet, that day, something compelled me to focus solely on her and I found myself continually standing at her right shoulder, patting her head, bringing cool cloths to keep her comfortable, and feeding her an occasional bite of ice cream.
I remember toying with the thought that, at some point, I would whisper in her ear to please give Liz a hug for me when she saw her.
At the end of the day, with Betty resting comfortably at hospice, everyone except one daughter went home for the night.
Just a few short hours later our phone rang with the news that Betty was gone. She had slipped away during the early morning hours with her daughter asleep by her side.
After the news sank in, I realized that the opportunity to ask Betty to hug Liz was gone. I was immediately immersed with an intense sense of love and peace and the knowing that Betty was now with my daughter and she was indeed giving her that hug that I had only thought about.
A few seconds later that thought was gone — replaced with a feeling of gratitude that I felt was my mother-in-law’s way of thanking me for helping her in her final hours.
It’s been a few weeks now, and these experiences have had the chance to sink in. My answer about becoming a hospice volunteer has clearly been answered, and in a couple weeks I will be a hospice 11th hour volunteer. Some day soon, I will have the privilege of sitting with someone in their final hours. My prayer will be to offer them the same sense of peace and love that Betty received.
My experience was a gift — a gift given to me by God and by Betty. I have been blessed, and now I can be a blessing to others.