Throughout the course of my week as a hospice nurse, I have more conversations than I could have ever possibly imagined I would, when I began this job. I call families of patients in one place, while driving to another location to see someone else’s loved one, and then update that family on the way to the next stop. I can’t even tell you the last time I was able to listen to the radio, or even remembered to turn it on when I’m not working!
Some conversations are short. Some conversations are… well, not so short. There are some conversations that are just really, really hard to have, and there are other weekly calls for updates that I look forward to. One call in particular I always enjoyed comes to mind tonight because my patient’s son was in the same season of life as me. He recently lost his Dad, and his Dad was a gentleman I’ll never forget.
I won’t forget him because he was kind. He was genuine. He was gentle. He didn’t have any idea who I was, but his response to me week after week when I asked him how he was doing was, “Well… I’m just fine now that you’re here.” (I’ll call him Mr. Jones for privacy’s sake). I’d throw my arm around him, rub his back a little bit, and I’d feel him relax. No one ever touches single people. Did you know that? Elderly people in memory care and assisted living never get touched, or embraced. If you don’t think that makes an impact, you’re very mistaken. It most certainly does.
Mr. Jones didn’t interact with others very often, but when a photo album with pictures of his sons and grandchildren landed in his lap, he’d point out those he loved, and I’d watch him get frustrated when he couldn’t remember their names. But when I asked him if he was proud of his sons, his face would light up and he’d continue to point them each out to me.
Any mention of Montana, and Mr. Jones would tell of its beauty. “There are no words to describe it,” he once told me, as his blue eyes opened widely. He always wanted to return, and he told everyone. You could just see that longing in the twinkle in his eye.
Mr. Jones loved chocolate Hershey bars too, and the facility cook made a point of it to bring him two candy bars each evening after dinner. I often think to myself that when someone in a facility like this passes, it’s too often assumed that no one there at the facility, who cared for them day in and day out, answered their call lights, cleaned them up, and made sure they were up and in the dining area for breakfast each day (his favorite meal), right up to the chef in the kitchen are grieving the loss of our patient. They are.
But back to the phone calls… Mr. Jones’ son was one I looked forward to each week. He’d share stories, which, thinking back, probably helped him anticipate and prepare for the loss of his Dad in a very healthy way. And in the process, he had no idea he was sharing his Dad’s kindness and wisdom with me during every call. These calls are some of my favorite parts of being a hospice nurse, and probably some of the most important! We care for the entire family, and you simply cannot do that in a “drive-through” 15-minute visit!
One story he shared with me I will never forget. His Dad was a hard working man. Growing up, a good work ethic was modeled for him, right before his son’s very eyes. He watched his Dad get up at the crack of dawn every single morning and go to work. He didn’t hold any college degrees, but he was the smartest man his son had ever known. He knew his job was to provide for his family any way that he could, so he got up in the morning, he got dressed, and off to work he went. When he didn’t have work, he never slept in. He got up even when he had no clock to punch. He got himself dressed, and he left to find work. If that meant going door to door, asking if people had any chores, or projects he could work on in order to provide for his family, then that’s what he did – he knocked on doors. But he never, ever, ever missed a day’s work, or asked anyone for a handout. That’s impressive, especially nowadays when there seems to be people standing on every corner asking for cash, when “help wanted” signs are in every window of every restaurant on the same corner.
Mr. Jones may have believed that all he was doing was providing for his family. But when he was dying, and his son thought to share that story with his nurse because of the impact it had on his life – it made an impact on mine as well. Mr. Jones taught his son how to be a real man. He didn’t always do that by telling him what to do – he did it by BEING a good man, and now his son is, as well. He must be so proud of him, peeking down and watching him provide for his family now.
Most of my patients are unable to tell me much about themselves, so the stories families choose to share are so precious. This one will forever be one of my favorites. A healthcare provider will always thank the family of their patients for the privilege of caring for their loved one, but sometimes behind that thank you is the appreciation for an endearing short story they randomly shared, that made a lasting impact on a hospice nurse.
If you’ve ever done that, consider this a thank you, from this hospice nurse. I love my hospice stories 😉
Oh, Mr. Jones – I hope heaven looks just like Montana!