This story was relayed to me by an acquaintance:
On a bright sunny spring day, Katie watched as her elderly neighbor walked solemnly into her house. Her neighbor’s husband had been fighting cancer for a couple of years, and his condition had declined greatly over the winter. Katie suspected the worse.
“Hey, Marge,” she said, tilting her head a little. “How are things…” She was hesitant to finish the sentence, hoping it wasn’t bringing up a subject she wasn’t ready to discuss with the neighbors, “you know, with Joe?”
“Oh, he’s doing much better. He’s going to hospice today.” She smiled and invited Katie in for tea. Katie started the kettle while Marge got out her bone china cups and saucers. They made small talk about the weather and old man Nichol’s with his knee socks, and Katie waited for Marge to give information about Joe. By the time the kettle blew, Marge had set a beautiful table. The candles were lit, cloth napkins folded just so, a dish was filled with pecan crisps, and real cream in the pitcher. Her china set was elegant with dainty flowers and gold trim. The dining table looked like it was set for royal guests.
“Wow, Marge, this is beautiful,” Katie said. That is when she noticed Marge’s red-rimmed eyes. Instinctively, she put her arm around Marge’s shoulders as she sobbed. Neither said anything – there was no words that could be said at that moment. Marge lifted her head, sighed deeply, and grabbed a nearby box of tissues. She was petite and gentle, but was the type of woman to take the bull by the horns when confronted with difficulties. Except today, and Katie noticed a particular frailty to her she had never seen before. They sat down and Katie poured the tea.
“You know, Joe and I rarely used our good china. We saved it for special occasions, and over the years I think maybe three or four times I’ve brought it out.”
“It’s beautiful, Marge.”
“He’s dying, you know.” She stirred her tea and took a sip, not looking up from the dishes on the table. “We’ve just run out of time and now he’s going to hospice.”
Katie was not familiar with hospice, but understood it’s where people go to die. Marge explained that so many things happened to Joe over the past two weeks, starting with a fall in the bathroom and four stitches on his scalp. Most recently he had a series of blood clots, and yesterday Joe had a massive stroke. He was not responsive, unable to eat or drink, and connected to many monitors and tubes. Today, his oxygen levels dropped and the doctors talked to Marge about intubation, but she said no. Marge and Joe had living wills made decades ago, and when he was first diagnosed with cancer they had confirmed the choices made. No feeding tubes, no heroic measures, and if there was no hope for a full recovery, no intubation. She asked if it was time for hospice, and the doctor made a referral.
“When we had these living wills made, we said letting go would be the greatest act of love for one another.” Marge sipped her tea, and setting her shoulders square said, “And I love him to death.”
Katie drove Marge back to the hospice later that day, and Joe passed peacefully a few days later. It’s been nearly a year since Joe passed and Marge has taken up painting, something she had never tried before. The women have tea regularly now, usually with cookies or pie, and always on the bone china.
Having a living will or advance directive is a way to make sure others know what your wishes, should the situation arise where you are unable to speak for yourself. A living will can be prepared by your attorney, but there are several types of advance directives available online. For more information about advance directives, please see the links below:
- National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and CaringInfo – http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3289
- Medicare – https://www.medicare.gov/manage-your-health/advance-directives/advance-directives-and-long-term-care.html
- AARP – https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/free-printable-advance-directives/
- National Institute on Aging – https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/advance-care-planning-healthcare-directives