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storied lives

MelissaThe National Hospice and Palliative Care Association ran a contest last year, inviting submissions of photos, films, essays, and poems. Melissa Roberts Weidman, who works at Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod and plays bass guitar when she’s not, won First Place with the essay “How the pieces match.”

“People die the way they live,” the nurses here at my hospice often say. That sounds like we are all destined to be plagued by our bad habits (or better, rewarded by our hard-earned virtues) right up to our very last moments. Or maybe, as I prefer to think, it means that the unavoidable end of life can be as varied, unique and fascinating as any adventure possible. Each patient I have had the privilege of knowing at our hospice house has shown me the distinct individuality of the experience.

Kathleen was a terminal cancer patient who resolutely pushed her walker outside every day to sit in state on the veranda, chain smoking and drinking cups of black coffee. She took great joy in the birds fluttering at the feeder and in holding court with the various aides and nurses who shared her love of tobacco. Once a month she dressed up in her party clothes to go to the Foxwoods casino with her daughter, returning jubilantly to report her losses. She adored the fresh-baked fruit pies and chocolate cakes the hospice cook made, growing rosier and plumper with each passing month. She thrived despite her terminal illness, living for two years beyond all predictions.

Max, on the other hand, was furious at his diagnosis. His eyes blazed at each staffer as they came in to help. “What are you doing here?” he would snap. His loving wife would sit helplessly by, trying to calm him down with a pat on the arm or an embarrassed apology. Max would have none of it. He especially fumed at the presence of the chaplain. “There’s no blessing in any of this,” he parried as she offered to engage in a spiritual dialogue. “I don’t believe in God and never will. It’s a load of hogwash.” But as time went on and Max weakened, his fire damped down. He let his wife take his hand and began to ask questions of the chaplain. “What happens to me when I die? Is there life after death? Will I be able to send a sign to my wife after I’m gone?” The hard angles in his face softened. He began to accept that he didn’t have answers to the questions, but it was enough to let them be heard. (more . . . )

© 2008 NHPCA.


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