Bone China

pexels-photo-209438.jpegThis 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Big Question

Having been raised in a Catholic home, I was taught that Saint Peter would be waiting at the Pearly Gates with a large book containing the names of every human being, and if you had been a good person he would grant entrance to heaven. Otherwise, you would descend into hell. As a child, there were many times I worried that the keeper of the keys to heaven would see my name on the naughty list. I spent a lot of time in the confessional.

As I matured and became educated in science, logic, and reason I fell away from my Catholic beliefs; religion to me was seen as a means for authorities to control the masses, and history of the Christian Church confirmed my beliefs with facts and historical evidence. Even now I see many outdate parables in the bible involving selling children and stoning sinners, things that would put a person in prison a very long time today. I’ve drifted from Catholicism and into other religions and eventually decided we all are worshipping the same energy. There is only one God, one Source, one Divine presence. And the Big Question – is heaven real? Yes, heaven is real.

My first experience in hospice was as a volunteer at the hospice inpatient unit. I wasn’t yet sure about a career change, so exposure to hospice patients seemed like a logical yet noncommittal step in that direction. The first assignment was to sit with an elderly woman until her family traveled from out of state to be with her. What I witnessed in her room forever changed my way of thinking.

I do not recall her name, but she was from the era of the 1940s because there was a wedding photo of her and her husband next to her bed set in that time period. The nurse told me she has severe dementia and had not spoken a word for years. She was heavily medicated for comfort and unable to move on her own; she had not opened her eyes since they found her on the floor in the nursing home. Technically, she was comatose. It’s likely those in this condition are able to hear, not with their ears but with their spirit, so I talked with this woman while we waited for her family. I told her I was sorry she had fallen and was in a hospice, and because of the religious artifacts in her room I said a few prayers over her. I said that her family was in route to see her and to hold on a while longer so they could see her before she leaves us. For the next couple of hours I made small talk, held her hand, wiped her eyes, and let her rest. She never once moved or made a sound.

It was getting late and I was nodding off in the chair next to her bed. I jumped at the sound of her voice, saying “Bernie…”, and then I saw her hand, her frail, contracted hand, lift up and reach toward the ceiling. I stood up to see her eyes were wide open and she had a peaceful smile across her lips as she repeated, “Bernie…my Bernie.”

“Oh my,” a voice from the hallway startled me. The daughter and son-in-law were at the door, chins dropped, amazed at the sight.

“Is Bernie her husband?” I asked.

“No,” said the woman. “Bernie was my brother. He died last week, that’s why we were out of town. But we didn’t tell Momma. She doesn’t know.”

There is no way to explain for certain how this happened – how her ability to speak, move, and see returned. How she was seeing her recently deceased son in the ceiling tiles. There’s no way to know what she really saw, and why she was calling Bernie’s name. I know what I believe. I was witness to the connection between two souls on different planes of existence. I believe I was witness to the transition between life and death, a holy place where spirit lifts our souls from this world to the next. Something is out there, and loved ones are waiting.