I sit here at my computer, a large portrait of my late husband hangs on the wall, facing me. His warm smile and kind eyes embrace me. I feel his presence as if he was really here. The photo is from the early ’90s, taken at my son’s wedding in San Antonio. Helles is wearing a formal tuxedo with a red rose boutonniere. The tuxedo and background are black, making his face, snow- white beard, and white shirt front and cuffs emerge vividly from the darkness, brightly lit by the camera’s flash. It is a strikingly handsome image.
My daughter Olivia died last December, just a few days before her third birthday. We had been working with JourneyCare for about a year and my entire family is so grateful to have had them in our lives. Hospice gave us a safe and trusting place to talk about all the difficult things that would arise in Olivia's life. It allowed me and Olivia's dad to have ongoing conversations about what kind of life we wanted for her, and it empowered us to do things that we might not have done with her had we never met her JourneyCare team. We were able to go on trips with her ― even taking her to SeaWorld because she loved the aquarium.
Yes, I know that Memorial Day is the day set aside as a national holiday to remember those who died while in military service. And, yes, I think it’s very important for all of us, especially younger people, to be aware that thousands of men and women actually gave their lives in dedicated service to what this country stood for and still stands for.
Most top of mind are likely those killed in World War II, and Korea, and Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan. But there are others to be remembered... from Grenada and WWI and all the way back to the Civil War. Memorial Day is dedicated to all those who died in service. For those many who died before any recognition could be given them, who didn’t get to hear warm words like, “On behalf of a grateful nation, it is an honor to present to you...” or “Thank you for your dedication, service and sacrifice...“ or “This great nation will be forever in your debt...”
How often in our lives do we hear that line?...from a child who comes rushing in from play to share a story of a neighborhood adventure, an older relative who shares a special memory, or a colleague who has a tale to tell from the morning commute.
Stories are the fabric of our lives; stories help JourneyCare share our mission about the patients and families we serve each day in their life journeys.
My mother's best girlfriend from childhood, Marge, told me that she met me for the first time when I was two days old, and I have memories of her throughout my childhood ― a calm, strong and loving presence; a true and steadfast friend to my mother.
It is essential to our good health to have meaningful and rich friendships in our lives. According to Mayo Clinic’s article "Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health," meaningful friendships:
• Increase your sense of belonging and purpose.
• Boost your happiness and reduce your stress.
• Improve your self-confidence and self-worth.
• Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one.
It’s the last thing hospice patients do before they are discharged from service.
Lilian, Mary, Emmett and so many more.
As hospice nurses, we all have patients who have touched our hearts in profound ways.
Many folks think hospice is a sad thing. It’s not though. The grief families experience comes from losing these beautiful souls and anticipating a world without their jokes, their laughter, and their wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience. It's not sad for me though ― each is a celebration of a life and the end of one soul's human experience. But hospice nurses experience the loss in some ways as well. We all have different ways to cope too.
On a recent visit to Journeycare, we stood outside the doorway of a patient and asked the family if he wanted to visit with Mystery, one of our miniature therapy horses.
We were told the patient really loves animals, but that they were uncertain whether he was prepared for it at this time. Encouraged to ask the patient himself, we walked into the room. The man slowly opened up his eyes.
In our fast-paced, success-based society, people often feel stigmatized for the need to seek out counseling support. There’s this expectation that people will “pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” and the desire for help is deemed a failure. Men in particular are taught early on to withhold their emotions, and those who remain stoic in the face of adversity are considered heroic. Although we each carry a unique perspective, there are certain universal experiences that alter the course of our lives and inevitably affect our way of thinking.
I read. And I write, but not nearly as much as I read. And sometimes I read books about dying. I recently read "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi, which has been on The New York Times best seller list for several weeks. It is written by a neurosurgeon regarding his diagnosis with terminal lung cancer.
I flagged several lines in the book because they resonated with me.
The first part of the book is a reflection on his life in the medical field.
· On page 80: “Learning to judge whose life could be saved, whose couldn’t be, and whose shouldn't be requires an unattainable prognostic ability.”
· On page 102: “How little do doctors understand the hells through which we put patients.”
Advance care planning is something I'm passionate about. As an Advanced Care Planning Advocate for JourneyCare, I am very lucky that my job allows me to do something I believe in so strongly.
An important part of my work is to bring focus to National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is approaching on April 16. This nationwide initiative exists to inspire, educate and empower you, as well as your healthcare providers, about the importance of advance care planning.
This year’s theme is “It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.” I have witnessed the truth of this slogan firsthand.