One of the things I learned from hospice patients was how much they appreciate someone listening to them share stories. Many people think that a hospice chaplain's job is to make people talk about death. I think it's more important to offer patients the opportunity to talk about life and what it means to them. With time and trust, the rest has a way of working itself out. Mr. J. is a good example.
Mr. J. suffered from a serious breathing ailment that kept him on oxygen all day and night. He was a big, gruff, teddy bear of a man and his loyal companion was a tiny, gray-faced Pomeranian named Gracie. When I first met them, tiny Gracie met me at the front door, barking and wagging at the same time. Mr. J invited me in. The two of them settled down in the den for a visit, Mr. J. in his big chair and Gracie at his feet. Mr. J. wasn't my patient, but Pet Peace of Mind had taken care of Gracie and I was there to interview him about the program. I asked him how Gracie had come to live with him. Gracie had been found abandoned years ago at a campsite, he told me. The little dog's determination won his wife's heart and Gracie came home to stay. She was now in her teens, with arthritis and some vision and hearing loss. She didn't let that stop her one bit, though. Just let someone knock at the door.
The part of the interview that seemed to be the most touching for Mr. J. was when I asked him what Gracie meant to him at this time in his life. "She is my life," he answered. "She's my alarm clock, she's my doorbell, she's my companion. She makes me get up. We have a routine. I don't know what I would do without her." As Mr. J. talked, he had to pause often to catch his breath. I could see very clearly that without Gracie, it would have been easier for Mr. J. to stay in bed all day, just trying to breathe. But Gracie helped him live.
One of the social workers at Hospice of Green Country emailed me to let me know that Mr. J had passed away last week. He was a special patient. Gracie has a forever home with his wife, but I know she will miss her dear friend.