Death as a Friend

In our orientation meeting we chose some words we identified death with. I chose the word “friend”. I felt that death can be a wave of relief, an exit from pain, and can be a friend to those nearing it. In my hospice volunteer experience, I learned a few more things. Death comes often and is just the last stage of our adventure of life on earth. And I still see it as a friend and not as something to be feared.

My patient Susan has been in hospice care for many years and in the same nursing facility for even longer. It wasn’t always easy to speak to her but over time we were able to understand each other in our facial expressions and mannerisms. I visited her once a week every week for the entirety of my senior year of college. I looked forward to our time together as it was a step away from the daily stressors on campus. I was able to just enjoy life for an hour with her. I always made it my goal to make her laugh at least once during this hour and I met it almost every time. I didn’t see a health decline until our last few meetings together. Once I went into the center and could not find Susan, as she wasn’t in her typical spot in the dining room. I almost started to cry because I was afraid she had died and no one had told me. I was so scared that the last time I saw her I didn’t hug her goodbye. So every time after that, I made sure to give her a hug before I left. I found that giving her a hug would always make her smile; I am under the impression that she does not receive many hugs anymore. Or embraces not coming from nurses or aides moving her from her bed to her chair or to change her clothes.

I visited her on a Saturday morning once and saw a very different side to her care center than before. I sat on the other side of the curtain as the aides came in to change her and place her in her seat. I helped put on her make up and brush her hair. I felt a new closeness to her. I felt like she was getting tired of it all as well. During the last of our meetings I got to understand more of how she felt in her every day life there when I was not there. She has been there for a VERY long time and I had to say a “see you later” to her in early May. She is still under hospice care. I pray for her that she can find some small happiness in every day. When I told her I would be graduating and away for a while she let me know it was okay and that we would see each other again some day. I am so glad I was able to meet this woman and have her in my life for a year. I will always remember her and carry her in my heart.