Hospice Staff Helps Provide a Peaceful Passage
On Saturday, April 28, 2018, the world lost a genuinely wonderful man when Pop Lins departed this world into eternal life in Heaven. Pop-Pop, as he was affectionally called by his family, was a husband, father of three, grandfather to seven, including my husband, and a great-grandpa to one, my son. While he wasn't a blood relative to me, my father-in-law, or to my son's great aunt, Linda, Pop-Pop sure treated us like we were.
When my mother-in-law called late last week to say that Pop-Pop wasn't doing well and that his doctors said he didn't have much more time, we immediately left and headed to Phoenixville Hospital on the outskirts of Philadelphia where Pop-Pop was under the care of Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care.
The drive to Philadelphia from Binghamton is about three hours, but this trip felt double that. It felt like we'd never get to the hospital and I was worried that we wouldn't make it for visiting hours. I mentioned this to my generally docile husband who fiercely said he didn't care and that nobody in the world would stop him from seeing his grandfather, he would push his way through.
I didn't know if I would be allowed to see Pop-Pop when we got to the hospital because I wasn't an immediate family member. I didn't know if my toddler would be allowed in the room with him. There were so many things that I didn't know and I spent much of the drive texting and messaging friends who work in the medical industry asking questions about what I should expect. What I should expect from the hospital and from hospice. But most of all, I wanted to make sure that my little boy would be able to give his great-grandfather one last kiss and I was afraid that he wouldn't be allowed in the room because of his age.
When we arrived at the hospital and went into the hospice unit, we were greeted by kids running down the hall, laughing. They were there to see a dying loved one and I let out a huge sigh of relief. My boy would be allowed to see his Pop-Pop and I knew if he got a little noisy it would be okay because the other kids were being kids and nobody shushed or admonished them. Instead, the hospice staff seemed to enjoy their presence.
For three days, we sat with Pop-Pop. At one point there were 14 of us gathered together in his room at 11 p.m. and nobody told us to leave or that we needed to be quiet. Instead, the nurses brought more chairs and encouraged us to be together. That night, my husband and I stayed with Pop-Pop until 3 a.m. Our little one fell asleep on two armed chairs that we put seat to seat and my husband sat next to his grandfather, head next to Pop-Pop's, holding hands and listening to music and whispering words of love in his ear. The hospice nurses came to check on Pop-Pop and on us. They wanted to know if we were comfortable. Did we want blankets or pillows? Something to drink? Would we like one of them to sit with us?
From the moment that we walked through the doors, we felt truly comforted by the hospice staff. They lovingly explained to us what was happening to Pop-Pop and were patient with all of our questions. One day, a lovely woman came into the room with a guitar, explaining that she was the hospice music therapist and asked if she could sing, reminding us that hearing is thought to be the last sense to go in the dying process and that singing might bring Pop-Pop comfort. And so we sang. We sang 'Jesus Loves Me,' 'The Old Rugged Cross,' and "How Great Thou Art" and although he was unresponsive, Pop-Pop turned his head toward the music and kept his head there the whole time we sang.
I can't imagine that being a hospice staffer is an easy job. Not only does a person have to deal with death on a daily basis, but they also have to deal with grieving loved ones and each person grieves in a different way. Some people shut down and put up a stoic wall while others cry and are desperate for the comfort of touch. There is absolutely no doubt that it takes a special kind of person to be a hospice staff member. This person needs to have compassion, grace, and tenderness and yet they must be strong and informative and respectful to both the patient and to those who love them.
The hospice staff made an awful event bearable because of the way they treated us and the man we loved. They took care of Pop-Pop with such tenderness, speaking to him even when he was unresponsive, with respect. They took the time to explain to him what they were doing whenever they repositioned him or gave him medicine. They moistened his dry lips and tenderly stroked his head. They told him how special it was that his whole family was there, together for him. Pop-Pop wasn't just another patient to them. He was a person, a person who mattered. The hospice nurses went above and beyond to make sure that he was comfortable, feeling no pain, and that he was treated with dignity and with respect. I can't begin to put into words what this meant to me and my husband.
I've learned a lot about hospice care in the last few days and while it's sad when a loved one has to enter into such care, it's less scary than I anticipated it would be and that is because of everyone on the hospice staff from the doctors to nurses and aids, to the therapists and the counselors. It would seem that the beautiful side of human nature really comes out when someone is facing their final days. We live in a world where people are rushed and where things can be cold and robotic and void of compassion. So it's beautiful to experience warmth in dark days and I really do wish we would all focus a little more of living slower, more accepting, and more compassionate lives.
I'll tell you this, being with someone at the moment of their death is profound. It really makes a person think about their own life. When Pop-Pop took his final breath, my first thought was of my little boy who was asleep on the other bed in the room. I thought of his birth and of that precious first breath that he took. I thought about how I hope that he lives the kind of life that will build love and togetherness, the kind of togetherness that means when he takes his final breath, he too will be surrounded by love.
I recently had a discussion with one of my bosses about life and how that in the end, our family and the ones we love are who will be there with us, not our jobs, not our possessions and this is why it's so important that we prioritize our relationships now, before it's too late. When your time comes, will you be surrounded by love?