“Understanding is better than criticism”


“Understanding is better than criticism”

This is part three of a series about Leola who was admitted to hospice at age eighty-five, but allow me to regress. When I started my career in hospice over twenty-four years ago, Sharon, the previous director, suggested, “Loren, your only limitation in hospice is your imagination.” Boy was she right! We strive to do all we can to maximize the quality of life and comfort of our patients and families, which involves discovering the person and tailoring the care to their individual and unique needs, hopes and desires. And sometimes it just involves the simple pleasures.

The entire team indulged Leola’s simple pleasures in progressive phases. Starting out we delivered pies from McDonald’s; Leola loved the strawberry and cream. I’d order ten pies at the drive thru and they’d ask, “How many pies did you say?” When they didn’t have ten I’d tell them, “Then just give me what you’ve got”. Then there was the plain cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake phase, the Captain D’s fish phase, the KFC chicken strip phase and the Long John Silver’s hushpuppies phase. When I ordered twenty-four hushpuppies and nothing else, there would be a pause and a voice would come across the speaker, “Could you repeat that order?”

During one of my weekly visits Leola asked, “You know what next week is don’t you? It’s my birthday. You’re going to have to get me something.” The following week I concealed what I’d brought and went straight to her kitchen. I placed birthday candles in the twenty-four hushpuppies, lit them and sang “Happy Birthday” to Leola as I carried them back into the living room. When I handed her the strawberry milkshake from McDonald’s she exclaimed, “You’re crazy, but I love it!”

Sometimes humor or a little “kidding around” can be therapeutic. Wise King Solomon wrote, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). But seeing that, “discretion is the better part of valor”, so you better know whether or not a person can take a joke. I’ve found that it’s usually the ones who like to “dish it out” who are willing, and even enjoy, taking it. One day I asked Leola, “Are you going back to the beauty shop anytime soon?” She grinned and replied, “You smart ass! I love you!” I know most of you are probably thinking, “I can’t believe he asked her that!” but I knew Leola pretty well by that time.

But we do get serious in hospice when we need to; after all, anxiety and fear aren’t laughing matters. Leola was perennially anxious. I don’t know if it was her nature or if it was insecurity triggered by her situation. I tend to believe it was the latter. Leola would continually insist, “Don’t forget!” Even though we had a set weekly visit, “every Tuesday at one o’clock”, she explained, “If I don’t hear from you by ten o’clock I’m going to call you. If I don’t hear from you by ten o’clock doubts start creeping in and I start to wonder if you are coming. When I don’t know, I get afraid.”

Most of use “get afraid” when we “don’t know”; especially when living with a catastrophic, chronic or terminal illness. I’ve noticed that when we’re out of the stream of life, when our world shrinks, we typically become fixated and anxious; “doubts start creeping it” and we “start to wonder”, “What if?” And it doesn’t do any good to just tell someone, “You shouldn’t worry so much”.

I’m reminded of what my coworker, Mike’s, grandmother used to tell him. I’ll allow Mike to explain: “It was usually when I wanted grandma to go somewhere or do something that she would say, ‘Don’t you think I would if I could!’ Sometimes I would just be messing with her and I’d say ‘No grandma, I don’t’. Then she would say, “well you don’t know me very well then!’”

I was humbled and inspired when Leola shared how her hospice aide, Clarissa, responded to her when she became disoriented one day: “I was so confused. I couldn’t remember. It scared me to death.” Leola’s eyes welled with tears but she continued, “Clarissa was so patient with me. She went over every detail, every step, two or three times. Then she asked me, ‘Do you remember me getting you back on the couch?’ Then it clicked, I remembered. We talked about how startling it is, how troubling it is when you become disoriented and unable to mentally put things together.” What an example Clarissa provided for all of us!

I’ve come to realize that understanding is better than criticism, for criticism seeks to change or control the person, but understanding seeks to get to know the person; to identify and respond to the need of the moment. And people don’t need a judge, they need a friend, after all, don’t you think “they would if they could”?

“…comfort the faint hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at hardinl@somc.org or at 740-356-2525

Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at hardinl@somc.org or at 740-356-2525