This year's Midwest CareCenter gala honoring Dr. Dennis Murphy was a huge success, matched only by the equally monumental efforts of many volunteers. I know this because for the second year in a row, I have chaired this event with Pam Waud. Early on a Renaissance theme was selected, and it didn't take long for the incredibly creative members of our committee to start working their magic. Banners were flowing, suits of armor were arriving, and madrigal singers and actors in costume were booked.
This hospice, this wonderful, caring, abiding presence in all our days, humbled me in 1979. It continues to do so, even as I express my gratitude to it as a superb caring entity, which is superbly represented by each and every one, a caregiver, directly and indirectly.
In 1979, Paul Wise, a new patient to me, informed me in his initial visit that he had recently lost his wife. Later, after his physical examination, he asked if I knew the name Cicely Saunders. My first thought was, "His wife has just died and already he wants me to know of his new lady friend." But fortunately a second thought came in, Isn't she an English woman? Something about "Hospice" or some such? Care at home at the end of life?
I spent more than a decade focused on a career with GE, specializing in customer service and then finance. My business career even briefly took me from Chicago to Baltimore and Philadelphia, managing an entire sales region on the East Coast.
In the early 1990s, my path led me back to Chicago to start a family and to return to school to pursue a degree in education. But shortly after returning to Chicago, my father suffered a heart attack that led doctors to discover he also had cancer. Instantly, I began helping my mother with caregiving duties and my career change to education was officially on hold.
I wished to be a nurse for as long as I can remember.
Even while in high school, I served as a candy striper and nursing assistant. When I graduated early at age 16, I only briefly considered a four-year university, but I didn't want to spend two years earning general education requirements in areas like history or literature. I thought "I'm 16 years old and time's a-fleetin', I want to be a nurse!"
We are so grateful to have our family's artwork on display at Midwest CareCenter. This is a beautiful facility centered around helping family members during a difficult time and, since we are such a close family who is always there for each other, it seems so appropriate.
As the Coordinator of Jewish Care Services, I have been proud of my ability to help educate our staff about the Holocaust, and caring for aging Survivors as they come to our service. I have developed curriculums to teach children, adults in Nursing Facilities, and our palliative and hospice staff. I believe it is important to keep talking about this time in history and how events in the world currently have brought fears of another Holocaust to the forefront. Imagine how those Survivors still with us must feel? The fears they are likely living with? I go to many events that support Survivors or give me opportunities to hear their stories. For that reason, I was drawn to the Names, Not Numbers program when it was described to me by a Jewish Care Services ambassador who is a parent of students at Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School in Skokie, Ill., which is sponsoring the project.
My late husband, Tom, and I were both raised Catholic but, over time, we quit practicing our religion and became fallen-away Catholics. That didn't mean that my core beliefs changed – I still prayed, did volunteer work, etc., but we didn't belong to a church.
People become hospice volunteers for different reasons. Maybe they have had a personal experience with hospice when a loved one needed care. Maybe they just want to give back. Generally when people inquire about becoming a hospice volunteer, it is because they want to contribute something of themselves to others, to contribute to a cause they believe in, and to help other people.
If you have read my previous posts here at Your Best Day, Today, you know that my experience with Midwest CareCenter has been based on the death of my 48 year-old husband, Tom. He died too young but, as I have said so many times before, the care he received at Midwest CareCenter turned a terrible thing into a comfortable, loving event. But I actually had experience with hospice in a completely different setting when my mother died in 2006.
This won't be easy. This whole thing. This whole my loved one is dying thing. But if you are considering hospice, are working with hospice now, or have worked with hospice in the past, you already know this. When a loved one is dying, everything is hard. Living day to day is hard. Even making it through the day can be an excruciating endeavor. But here's the thing. Although inviting hospice into our lives can't take the pain away, it can make things easier. And really isn't that what we are going for here? A little more ease? A little more grace. A little breathing room?