Details of a Short Stay at the Hospice House
Two years ago when my Grandma had surgery for colon cancer, she could see the hospice house from her hospital room. During her two week stay in one of the tallest buildings in our small town, she could peer over the parking lot, the drainage field and the row of pine trees, to the hospice house. And for two weeks she watched people go in and out, visiting their dying loved ones, and she decided that she didn't want to die there. She wanted to be at home.
doesn't never goes as planned. I'm starting to believe that you need some sort of plan - like a goal- so you don't wander aimlessly around waiting for life to happen to you, but plans are more like suggestions.
One time I toured a college, and the college mentor was explaining to me that she had been there for seven years and just couldn't leave because she didn't know what to do with her life when she left.
Completely forgetting the fact that she was in fact living her life at that moment she was wasting it, while she decided she had to 'be something' in order to live life. -
But back to Grandma- not even two weeks after we sorted shoes, water retention in her body made her limbs too heavy for family members to care for her at home. And when my sister pulled her shoulder trying to help her- she knew she had to make a decision and she entered hospice house via ambulance and being lifted down her porch stairs in her kitchen chair by two strapping EMTs.
And that image of her sitting- all frail and both bones and skin from wasting away from cancer and swollen and puffy tissues from water retention- wearing a nightgown and robe- knowing she would never return to her home- in her own kitchen chair- makes me cry. I wasn't there when she left for the hospice house, but I came that night to see her.
I had never been in the hospice house before. I'd heard excellent things about it.- My Mom and I went together, quiet in our thoughts. The building is right behind the hospital and off a main road, but they designed it in such a way that you feel like you're in the woods. It's an illusion- but it's peaceful and relaxing, and one can pretend that death is a quiet, separate affair from the busyness of life.
The interior is designed like a lodge, floor to ceiling windows allow you to peer into the strip of pine trees, concealing the hospital tower just on the other side. A stone fireplace, and comfortable chairs fill the lobby, like you've just come in from skiing. Books, a television, a piano, and a kids area invite family members to stay. The next room is a large dining room, with enough chairs to seat large families. And a kitchen is open for anyone to use.
Laminate floors that look like polished wood floors, dim lighting, and exposed beams with plenty of natural light, make the surroundings seem less like a hospital and more like a home, except for the nurses station in the middle, the beeps and rings that accompany any medical setting, and the harsh cleaner smell in the air.
Grandma looks so small and vulnerable in her bed. A bed that is rumored to cost $50,000 and can take her vitals, and will sound an alarm if she gets or falls off it.
The bed - For being a fancy example of medical genius and technology, Grandma complains and says the bed is stiff and uncomfortable. The nurses agree, and say they have heard that from other patients. One sassy nurse says maybe admin should have to sleep on the beds before they buy them. -
I'm at a lost of what to say- shouldn't you have the most comfortable bed when you're dying?
The room is beautifully decorated- with exposed beams, triangle shaped windows above the doors leading onto a balcony, which has a bird bath and bird feeders on it. Perfect for my Grandma who used to feed the birds, until health and budget prevented her.
Grandma is a little lost, confused- her wrinkled brow scrunched together, my Mom having to remind her how she arrived there. Which Grandma recalled quickly, once we starting talking about it.
And my Grandma being my Grandma, notices the tiny smidgen of dust collected above the Cove Heaters.
No one knows it at the time, but in less than two weeks, Grandma will be gone and Grandpa will occupy the room across the way.
I visit the next day and Grandma is sitting up in her rocking chair, watching the birds eat at the birdseed. My Mom had tracked down a volunteer to fill it up so Grandma can enjoy birdwatching. She never turns on the television, once while she's there, using her time to read a bit, watch the birds, and visit. She is rarely without someone there with her.
My great Aunt D, who is Grandma's big sister by eleven years, is constantly by her side, and she doesn't say it, but no big sister thinks they're going to help their baby sister onto the next path. Every time she brushes Grandma's forehead, or grabs her hand, or tries to make sure she has everything she needs, she is smiling and encouraging. But occasionally, you can see the pain when she loses control for just a nano second, and the heaviness of her heart dampens her eyes.
And then it's gone, and she smiles and tries to chat.
I ask if Grandma needs something else to read, but she says she has plenty of magazines at home that she hasn't had time to read, plus a couple of books she's in the middle of reading, so when she's done with the two magazines she has brought, she'll have me go get them.
She doesn't even finish the magazines she brought, and later when I read them, I find her blue post it note, holding her place, stuck in the middle of a story.
For the book lover in me, the child who would sneak out of bed to finish a book by nightlight- I'm having trouble with imagining what it must feel like to leave this physical world without finishing the book you are reading. I think it might drive me nuts on the other side. I'm afraid I will not be able to die without all books finished- or I will end up haunting a library.
It's amazing how much life less than two weeks can contain when you realize that time's almost up- and so I will have to finish the rest of Grandma's hospice stay in the next blog or two.
I'm still trying to figure things out. But I do know Tim McGraw is wrong. Riding a bull and jumping out of a airplane isn't what makes your life worth living.
And a bucket list is only as good as the love it contains. And perhaps just a little bit of the meaning of life- comes back to the hand that is holding yours when you journey into the next world.