“After all, that’s my day!”
This is part two of a series about Leola who was eighty-five when she enrolled in our outpatient hospice program. Leola was widowed and lived alone. She explained, “I’m alone, but I’m not lonely. There’s a big difference.” Leola pointed to a picture of her deceased husband and reflected, “Joseph had two ‘Purple Hearts’. That’s the best man that ever was. I could never remarry because I would be comparing them to him and no man could live up to his standard. We never wanted to travel much because we just loved being alone in our home. Joe once told me, ‘If you live to be old, you’ll live to regret it’. Its hell getting old but I don’t like the alternative. It’s hard to accept that you are getting older; you don’t see yourself that way.” I don’t see Leola that way either. She’s still feisty, quick witted and direct, as you will see in the following paragraph.
Leola and I settled on “every Tuesday at one o’clock” as my weekly visit time. During one of our weekly visits we talked about the grief and frustration of no longer being able to do what we used to. Leola admitted, “I can’t stand it. I used to mop the kitchen and bathroom floors every day but now I can’t do it.” I explained that after my open-heart surgery, I was given explicit restrictions. But I couldn’t stand it either, so about a month after my surgery, I shoveled snow from our driveway in single-digit temperatures. Then Leola exclaimed, “You dumbass! Your ass is dumb, but I still expect your ass to be in that chair every Tuesday at one o’clock!”
I didn’t realize how important it was to Leola for me to be in that chair every Tuesday at one o’clock’, until the week I canceled. It was Thanksgiving week and I called Leola and explained, “I don’t think I’ll stop by to see you this Tuesday since I’ll be dropping off a Thanksgiving meal to you on Thursday.” There was a long pause then Leola simply said, “Okay”. But I could tell something was wrong. The following week, Leola’s eyes welled with tears as she told me, “I was mad at you when you didn’t come last Tuesday. I was really upset. After all, that’s my day!
I should have known better; I did know better! When my father-in-law, Dave, suffered a devastating stroke I witnessed first-hand how a catastrophic illness can shatter a life, demolishing structures and routines. It was like a bomb was dropped on his life, our lives. The rehab unit at Southern Ohio Medical Center gave us a helpful booklet titled “The Road Ahead: A Guide to Stroke Recovery”. It pointed out that there’s no going back to what used to be; that you have to take “The Road Ahead”, which involves reconstructing your life and developing new meaningful and realistic goals. So we reconstructed, created new structures and routines, things that Dave enjoyed and could look forward to. Dave attended church with my wife Susie and I every Sunday in his wheelchair. Towards the end of each week Dave would ask, “Are we going to church Sunday?” He loved to take his home grown tomatoes to church and pass them out. We also took Dave to Ponderosa for “sirloin tips” every payday. Dave sensed when payday was getting close and he would ask, “Are we going to Ponderosa Friday?” We tried to plan and give Dave things to look forward to. Without something to look forward to, despair or hopelessness can settle in. And we can’t always pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, can we? Wise King Solomon wrote:
“Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10)
Do you know someone who has fallen, who is out of the stream of life? What can you do to lift them up, to give them something to look forward to? Use your imagination, be creative, and tailor it to the individual. What do they love, what do they enjoy? And keep showing up and doing what you said you were going to do, for “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes it is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12)
If life as you knew it, or hoped it would be, has been shattered; if your hope is “deferred” and your heart “sick”; if there’s no going back to what used to be, I direct you to the words of the writer of the Book of Hebrews: “Therefore strengthen the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame will not become dislocated, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12: 1-12)
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525