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A Double Dose of Dignity

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A Double Dose of Dignity

Writer’s Introduction

Terrell Whitener is a member of the St. Louis community. He came to our hospice program as the result of a “cold call” to our office. I asked him to share his story and what hospice has meant to him in dealing with his loss. Even though his spouse was not on hospice, his story serves to show that hospice provides a valuable community service in its grief work. His words follow:

A Double Dose of Dignity

My first exposure to what we now know as hospice care came some 31 years ago.  My mother was in what would become the last hours of her life after a long batter with colon cancer, shared this experience with me.

In those days visiting hours in hospitals were pretty regimented.  I was alone with my mother having what would be our last conversation when the end of visiting hours came.  I mustered up the courage to ask if I could come earlier than the regular time to visit my mother the next day. Without any hesitation the nurse on duty told me I could visit my mother at any time I wanted to. At that moment I realized my mother was dying.  That reality came around 3 hours later. She was just 52 years old. The consideration that was shown to that then 28 year old man would never be forgotten.  It was the initial dose of dignity shown to me by the process we now know as hospice care.  At that time little would I know the role of hospice would later play in allowing me to preserve my dignity when I lost my wife. 

My wife Robyn and I never participated in hospice services together during her long and protracted battle with stroke and heart disease.  We lost that battle on February 28, 2015.  I always say “we” as I know we went through most of the battle together.  While I could never feel what Robyn felt, I was her cheerleader, care-taker, spouse, coach and at times probably her biggest headache during this time.

Determined not to flounder after Robyn’s death, I reached out for help only to come up empty. Out of desperation, I reached out to Heartland Hospice where I connected with my counselor, Sarah.

From the start I felt that Sarah “got it” and I could trust her to do the work I needed to get done after losing the fight of my life.  The skill at which Sarah managed my feelings allowed me to lay my feelings bare and I feel accelerated the healing process that I remain in today.  It gave my new role as a widower a cornerstone. It gave me dignity in my frailty just as it did 31 years prior. It game me and continues to give me my second dose of dignity. 

- Submitted on behalf of Terrell Whitener by Sarah Layton, MSW, LCSW with Heartland Hospice in St. Louis, MO

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