On Monday, Ahnung and I went to visit 'M'. We didn't bring any White Castle burgers on this trip because we had been told she was continuing to decline and to be honest, I felt like we were on the final stretch. The last visit we had I brought White Castle burgers, and yes, she ate all of it and loved it, but she was clearly not feeling well. On Monday, Ahnung and I were planning to simply be there with her while she slept. Instead, we were in for an amazing surprise ... I shared the following on my facebook wall after our visit on Monday:
"Miracles do happen! ... today, I was expecting a very different visit with 'M'. Instead, Ahnung and I had the most incredible visit .. here are my notes to the Allina volunteer coordinator from today's visit: ... When Ahnung and I got to the patient's room she was sleeping. We walked in and sat next to her for a little while. As we were moving around she woke up. She immediately said, "Star Good Girl." Much to my surprise the patient was doing very well on our visit. We had a very nice visit and chatted for about an hour (her roommate was there for a large portion of our visit and also participated in our conversation). The patient said she hasn't been feeling well (nausea and tingly pain across her chest). She said the meds have been helping her. She said she has trouble sleeping at night as her mind keeps going. I asked her what she is thinking about and she said she remembers so many things, like her kindergarten teacher. She said she's remembering a lot of things from a long time ago. We talked about her twin brothers, how she's the last of the her siblings to be alive, how she loves music and wishes she had learned how to play an instrument. She especially loves the harp, violin and guitar ... and classical music. We then shifted to food!! :) She once again started talking about White Castle burgers and was remembering how delicious the White Castle burger she had from when I brought some over last Friday. I learned that both the patient and her roommate prefer the White Castle burgers with cheese so I promised I would bring them cheeseburgers next time. She asked me if I would ever eat one of them and I said that Star would have my share ... she said, 'You don't know what you're missing!' and smiled. She said there's just no burger like White Castle burgers!! We had an absolutely wonderful visit and she was very happy to see us (especially Star!!) .. she said Star can come visit her every day! I told her that we would be coming more often to visit :)
She also asked about the animals up at Leech Lake Reservation. How many did we rescue last week? How she hopes they all find good homes ... I never imagined I would be given the gift of another visit with such wonderful conversations .... We engaged in great conversation with her roommate .... her roommate is a HUGE Twins fan, and I brought her a present (a Twins gnome) from Jenny and told her ... "from one Twins fan to another!" She was wearing her Twins outfit, put on her Twins cap and held onto the Twins gnome and posed for me so I could take a picture. She was smiling from ear to ear ♥ And the two happy roomies held hands and posed for me so that I would have a picture of the two of them :)"
'M' gave me such an incredible gift. Her smile when we would walk in her room ... her soft, gentle voice saying 'My Star ... my Star Good Girl" makes me smile. How she would tell me "it's all about attitude. I've had a good life." She would've been 90 on December 22nd. I told her we would have a big birthday party for her. She said she couldn't leave her room. I told her not to worry, I would bring the party to her! On our last visit, she talked about how she loves music and how she wishes she had learned to play an instrument .. she loves the harp, classical/acoustic guitar and the violin. I was planning on bringing my ipod with me and playing music for her. On Monday when I told her Star and I would be coming back soon and that it's okay if she doesn't feel well and just wants to sleep ... that we would just hang out with her. She looked at me and said, "will you just come sit with me? You and Star can come as often as you want. In fact, you can stay here all the time ... Star is such a good girl. She's the best dog in the world. We need more big therapy dogs ..." My heart smiles every time I think of 'M.' I love how she would share stories of her family, of what makes her happy ... she was very proud of her nieces, nephews, grandkids. One of her grandaughters was a screen writer and actress and she was very proud of how she tackled a very difficult topic, domestic violence. "It's a sad ending," she tells me, "the woman doesn't leave and she dies in the end." She goes on, "But it's an important story and it will help other women." She tells me how much she loved to read and write. She tells me how much fun she had as a kid, and on our last visit shared many memories of early childhood.
On Monday I never imagined I would have the gift of another visit with her where she seemed so full of life. After watching her steadily decline for the past couple of weeks I didn't think we would have the kind of conversations we had when we first started visit in July. Monday was truly a miracle. In some ways, my gut was saying ... is she giving us this precious gift before she leaves us? Ahnung always sleeps upstairs and never comes in my bedroom with me. Ahnung sleeps upstairs or wherever she chooses to sleep. Last night was different. She came into my bedroom and wanted to sleep with me. I think she knew 'M' was leaving ... and i'm not surprised my dear friend 'M' waited till 1:00 am so that the day she leaves this world is on a Blue Moon, a rare event when we have two full moons in a month.
As my heart filled with pain and grief when I received the news of M's passing, I momentarily asked myself, "Why? Why do I do this? Why do I volunteer in hospice? Why do I set myself up to be hurt?" I've been crying this morning and my heart hurts. But I can hear M's voice telling me it's okay, she's had a good life. I can hear her asking me about the animals up at Leech Lake Reservation. I can hear her happy that Star is no longer having to fend for herself and that she's safe, and that we belong together. The pain in my heart is as great as the joy 'M' gave to both of us. This morning I knew what I needed to do was to honor 'M', to give myself time and space to grieve and feel the pain of her loss ... and yes, for me, I needed to write. I need for others to hear bits of her story. I need for the world to know that a beautiful, wise spirit has passed on. Thank you 'M' for all you have given to so many in this world. Thank you for the gift of allowing us to walk alongside of you in the final leg of your journey .. a journey you walked with such love, kindness, dignity and grace. And so the answer to why Ahnung and I volunteer in hospice returned after I allowed the tears to flow. Death is as much a part of the cycle of life ... it's not something to fear. It's as much a part of the cycle of life, and 'M' lived it all the way to the end. She also told me over and over again, what a gift it was for her to have Star come visit her. So I know in my heart that part of Ahnung's work is to give comfort and joy to those on their final stage of their journey.
To what is good
even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life
even when it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand
even when I have gone away from you.
~ Pueblo blessing
So tonight, on a Blue Moon, I will celebrate the life of an incredible woman ... a woman who touched my heart and a woman who called my Ahnung "Star Good Girl" ... because tonight, when I look up into the night skies, I will know the brightest star out there will be our friend.
Rest well dear friend. You will forever be in our hearts.