Friday, August 17, 2012

Hospice volunteering: "Star .. Good Girl"

Ahnung holding vigil next to M's bed
For seven weeks we have been visiting our friend 'M' in hospice every Thursday. Ahnung and I volunteer with Allina hospice as a pet therapy team. In the beginning of July we got a request to visit a patient in hospice who was diagnosed with heart failure. Ahnung and I made our first visit to see 'M' on Thursday, 7/5. When we walked into the facility we were greeted by Jimmy, the resident black lab mix rescued dog. Ahnung and Jimmy greeted each other and Ahnung, of course, had to check out Jimmy's empty food bowl to make sure he didn't leave any crumbs for her. We waited to hop on the elevator to head to the 3rd floor. There's a sign on the elevator to not let Jimmy hitch a ride on the elevator so when the elevator door opened and Ahnung walked on in I unfortunately had to tell Jimmy we'd be back down to see him on our way out.

We read this every time we ride the elevator
When we walked into M's room we were greeted by a big smile. It's amazing the joy the presence of an animal can bring. I had the chance to also meet the patient's son and daughter-in-law and the four of us shared stories ... yes, mainly dog stories. 'M' wanted to know more about Ahnung, her story, and what her name means. In the 7 weeks we have visited 'M' we have had wonderful conversations. She loves Ahnung. She calls her 'Star' (Ahnung means 'star' in ojibway) ... actually, she calls her Star, Good Girl! She tells me over and over again, how happy Star is to come visit her. I smile and I nod. She's right. She tells me how happy she is Star is no longer suffering, how we belong together. Again, I nod and I agree. On our second visit I shared with her the 2012 Rescued Dog to Therapy Dog calendar where Ahnung is the August model. The following week she asked if she could have a calendar of Ahnung so she could put it up in her room. When I brought the calendar she asked me to move everything on her board to the side .. she wanted to make sure Ahnung's calendar was displayed prominently so everyone could see it. She tells me over and over just how beautiful her eyes are, and yes, what a good girl she is. She tells me how Star is her favorite.

Every week Ahnung and I look forward to visiting 'M'. We've shared stories and experiences while Ahnung lays quietly by her bedside. Throughout our visit Ahnung stands up to get pets and strokes on her head. A couple weeks ago, 'M' had an infection. She told me the room was spinning. But no matter what she always sees the positive and is grateful and appreciative. I tell her I want to be like her when I get older. She tells me, "it's all about attitude," she smiles. "I've had a good life and I have a lot of people who love me."

This past Thursday I walked into her room. She was noticeably weaker. 'M' was now attached to an oxygen machine. We walk in and an Allina staff is by her bedside. The staff member looks up and sees us walk in, "She's been waiting for you." Our friend 'M' smiles, 'There's my Star ... my Star Good Girl." The Allina staff member leaves so we can visit and spend time together. She asks me if I've rescued any more dogs so I tell her all about our recent spay/neuter clinic up at Leech Lake Reservation and how we brought down 42 animals who were surrendered. She tells me about how she used to love playing basketball and especially hockey; we talk about her love of reading and writing. She then shares how she's been feeling weaker, more tired and how the oxygen helps her sleep at night. She tells me how she hasn't been hungry but the staff wants her to eat. I ask her if there's anything she loves to eat. She mentions blueberry yogurt, but then we soon get to her real love .. White Castle hamburgers!!! There's a big smile on her face when she talks about White Castle hamburgers. I tell her the next time Star and I come and visit we are coming with White Castle hamburgers ... "Just one", she tells me, "I can't eat more than one." I tell her okay. I will bring her one, a few for her roommate and a a couple for Ahnung. I tell her we'll have a burger party! I ask her if she wants fries with her White Castle burger -- she says 'No, but i'd like a Coke!"

As we end our visit Ahnung walks up to the side of her bed to get pets and strokes on her head. M is tired and needs to rest. She tells me how she never wants to miss our visits. I assure her she won't and if she does, we will come back. There's a heaviness in my heart when I leave M's room. I know the time is approaching when we will have to say our goodbyes .... over and over I hear her say to me, "I've had a good life. It's all about attitude." M lives in the moment. She appreciates those around her and all she has today. Ahnung and I are supposed to be giving our hospice friends a gift ... instead what has happened is that we have been given an even greater gift in return. I look forward to our visits, to our conversations, to hearing her stories, to sharing my stories and to watching her light up by simply having Ahnung in her room.

As I have had to deal with my own health issues and Ahnung's cancer, and so much uncertainty in our own lives, I have been blessed with the gift of walking with a beautiful, wise spirit who approaches the end with so much dignity and grace. Death isn't something to fear. It will hurt and there will be a huge void in my heart when 'M' leaves but she is forever etched in my heart, and I have assured her that Star and I will be with her every step of the way. For now, we will continue to enjoy and cherish every moment we have and I look forward to our next visit with White Castle burgers and Coke in hand! :)

"Every blade in the field,
Every leaf in the forest,
Lays down its life in its season,
As beautifully as it was taken up."

~ Henry David Thoreau

1 comment:

  1. I don't believe I have ever met anyone quite as
    giving as you are.....and that includes Ahnung
    too! You have turned the world around for many
    people and animals, sharing love and goodness,
    changing lives, brightening smiles, warming and Ahnung are true treasures, and am so glad that our paths have crossed as well.