Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hospice volunteer work: Saying Goodbye

My therapy dog, Ahnung, and I volunteer at hospice. The picture on the left was taken earlier this morning as we arrived for a care conference scheduled for our hospice 'friend' (as Ahnung likes to call our assigned patient). We walked in after the hospice nurse who was also there for the care conference. I sign us in at the front desk and the receptionist calls a staff member who comes out to talk to us. Unfortunately our friend has a 'significant change' and the care conference has been cancelled. Our friend "S" has begun the active dying process. We've been volunteering now for several months with Allina hospice ... we've had 3 friends so far. The first was actually released from hospice because she was doing so well! The second passed on but it was actually before Ahnung and I actually had a chance to visit with her and we were notified by email by the Allina volunteer coordinator. This is the first time we are actually there when one of our friends has begun the active dying process.

Ahnung and I decide we want to see our friend and we head downstairs to the first floor. She knows this facility well now and walks around like she owns the place! She has friends there now who are on staff and they always give her lots of hugs. She walks into the elevator with confidence and stands perfectly still, calm, as the elevator shaft drops down just one level. As we exit we walk to the right and it takes us 5 minutes to get to the S's room as everyone wants to say "hi". We walk into S's room and the Allina hospice nurse is already there. "It won't be long" she tells me. She leaves the room to talk to the facility nurse and Ahnung and I are able to spend some alone time with our friend. She will stop breathing (apnea) for about 45 seconds or so, then when she starts breathing again, it's labored. As I reach to touch "S" Ahnung walks over to the bed and places her head on S's leg. I pull a chair over to the side of her bed and sit next to her. Silently, I pray and I talk to her while Ahnung lays quietly next to both of us. She is having a hard time breathing, almost gasping for air. I place my hand on her arm and stroke her arm. Quietly I tell her "it's okay. You're not alone." As my hand touches her body her breathing calms down. I continue to lay my hand on her so she knows that we are there. Ahnung comes up to the side of the bed so that she can see her friend. She then plops down on the floor again and takes a deep breath.

I had planned for a care conference this morning and emotionally wasn't really prepared to hear that our friend was actively dying. Somehow Ahnung seems to be much more okay with all of it. There's so much to learn from my sweet therapy dog ... she loves and lives with all she has, and when it's time to go, I think she will go with no regrets, no attachments, and with a big smile on her face ... I don't know exactly when "S" will cross over to the other side. It could be later today ... it could be tomorrow or the day after. If by chance, she's still around on Saturday, Ahnung and I will be there to visit with her again, to hold her hand and to let her know that we are there with her. I feel blessed and honored that we have been able to be there for "S" .... sweet friend, know that you are loved and know that you have touched the hearts of one human being and one canine.


8/13/2010 Update:
Our friend "S" passed away late this afternoon. Rest in peace sweet friend ... till we meet again. Thank you for allowing us to share in your journey as you walked your final steps. Let your spirit soar!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marilou,

    That's wonderful that you're a hospice volunteer. I work with a couple of authors who do it and I admire them for their courage to face loss over and over and still keep doing it. I didn't know that animals could be used as therapy for hospice patients--I think that's great.

    Your post was very Buddhist. We can learn a lot from our animal friends! Thanks for sharing.