Saying goodbye

My hospice patient died yesterday. I’d been visiting her every week since last June, which means suddenly there’s a strange space in my everyday life that just yesterday was filled.

As a hospice volunteer, I know from the start that the person I’ve been assigned to visit is going to die, supposedly within six months but usually much, much sooner than that. But our conversations are very much alive, so although the reality of the situation is in the back of my mind at all times, I really am able to enjoy the time that we have.

But the day comes, eventually, when each one slips away.

The hardest part about hospice, for me, is not knocking on a stranger’s door to offer my help. It’s not seeing someone I care for die, and it’s not watching their loved ones say goodbye (although that is a special challenge). The hardest part for me is the fact that after sharing such intimate moments with someone, I am virtually dismissed from the person’s life with no chance to grieve among others who knew her. I get a quick call from the hospice office with word that my patient has just died, and beyond a phone call to the family to see if there’s anything I can do to help them, that chapter of my life is closed for me by someone else. No longer needed, thank you very much, that will be all. Privacy rules dictate that I can’t share the patient’s identity with anyone, and I don’t have pictures of her to hold close. Nobody else I know even knew her.

So the images and stories and feelings we shared have nowhere to go, they just sit silently in a corner of my heart, among the memories of the other patients I’ve known and lost. Luckily, it’s a big corner, and there’s always room for more. So I wait with anticipation for my next assignment.

But I’ll never forget you, Miss Sarah. I won’t forget the way you corrected my grammar, gossiped about your neighbors, or threatened to launch a spoonful of peas across the nursing home’s dining room. I won’t forget the light in your eyes when you talked about your daughter, or when you told me of the day you flew a plane. Or, most especially, the first time you told me you loved me. Or the last.
I loved you too.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh Robyn, I'm so sorry for your loss. I can't imagine how hard that would be. But it takes a special kind of person to do that kind of work, and I admire you so much for doing it.

Anonymous said...

Robyn, So sorry for your loss. Just wanted you to know how lucky Miss Sarah was to have someones as special as you in her life. You are truly an angel. It is touching to see two people come together to form a special bond....and I also admire you

Robyn said...

Thanks for your kind thoughts, guys. I wish I knew who you were!

kim said...

oops. the first one was me.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your special friend, Robyn. Very few people have that true gift to love and share unconditionally. Thankyou!

Amy P said...

You continue to amaze me! Miss Sarah was extremely lucky.