Friday, August 29, 2014

Hospice Journey Stories: Steps toward inner healing

Every hospice patient has a story. Some stories are riveting in their content, others are sad, others are an unveiling, yet others are illuminating. Take for instance, the story of the Army Veteran who was silent about his military career and why it was he earned the Purple Heart. He was tight lipped about the experience that caused him severe damage to his back. His sons wanted to know, actually needed to know for their own sense of closure. During a “We Honor Veterans” Salute ceremony this patient connected with the Salutes leader. The patient asked that his family leave his bedroom as he wanted to talk privately. The family left the room. The two sons left the bedroom door cracked enough so they could hear the conversation and they listened intently. Their father related to the Salutes leader that he was awarded the Purple Heart for his getting wounded while involved in a raid. The artillery fire was intense. A palm tree was hit and fell … pinning him to the ground, breaking his back. He urged his comrades to fight on and leave him. When the fighting had stopped his small group of soldiers returned for him. They loaded him on a small motorboat which took him out several miles to a large cruiser, but they had to bring him back to shore because the cruiser did not have the medical equipment to help him. They had to wait until a more sophisticated cruiser came to the location. The pain was excruciating as with every wave they bounced off of his back radiated pain throughout his body. Finally, he made it to the ship with the medical staff and equipment that could help him. He recovered for the most part, but had lingering effects from the broken back. He vowed never to talk about it … until now. His sons, both officers, entered the room weeping. They gingerly embraced their father and expressed their pride and love. Great story … moving story. Then, there is the religious story … Jane related her story of why she became a Wiccan. When she was a child, her mother would take her and her siblings to Sunday School and Church. Her father was not interested in church. There came a time when her father became gravely ill and died. After the funeral, several church people came to her and attempted to console her by saying “We are sorry your father went to hell.” That statement was emblazoned in her mind and she said it as if it happened just the other day. She then related that she never went to that church again, but as she grew older, she began a spiritual quest for a religious system that did not hold to the beliefs of heaven and hell. She discovered Wicca and that is the why behind the what. Painful story to listen to. Then, there is the story of the committed grandfather who became deeply depressed as his journey through hospice and the disease process began to sap him of his strength to the point he was in need of walker, then a wheelchair. This Chaplain was present after both were delivered to his home. He sat dejected in his recliner and pulled back the curtain on his life. He was always active, not athletically, but physically active. He never needed nor would ask for help. He walked vigorously, lifted a few weights, always got out and about. Until the other day … He drove (something he shouldn’t have done in his condition, but something he fought giving up) to a grocery store, got out of his care, and promptly fell to pavement. He was unable to get up and crawled to a place where people could see him and help him to a bench. His daughter came to pick him after he called her. The daughter and her emotionally damaged Dad talked to the nurse about the event and then came the news that drove him to the ground figuratively with a force unlike the fall he just had: “I’ll order a walker for you to use around here and a wheelchair for when your daughter takes you to the store or other places.” What a kind way of saying, “No more driving.” His world had just shrunk from wherever he wanted to go, to the size of home. He was depressed. At that time a movie came out called, The Bucket List. The patient mentioned that the things in that movie were things he had no interest in doing, but he wanted to do a few things. One of those things had to do with his granddaughters who he took on trips around the world, individual trips around the world, that is. This conversation led to all of the slides he had of the places and experiences with each of his grandchildren. [For the more contemporary of our readers, a slide is like a piece of cellulose with a negative of the picture on it … no iPhones back then] Fast forward to Christmas Eve … I entered his home and was overwhelmed at what I saw. Slides were strewn on floor amid the granddaughters and their parents as they held the slides up to the sun and laughed and shared all the fun of their trips. All the while, my Patient sat in his easy chair as if presiding over one of the greatest meetings in the history of the world. His depression had dissipated and melted into sheer pride and utter delight. He did well by his family. He was engulfed in their love. He later died a contented man. Yes, stories do much for hospice patients. They get the poison out. They get the sorrow, the disappointment, the pain out. The also multiply the joy, the peace, the serenity. More on stories to come.

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