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Honoring Death

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Honoring Death

Submitted by Jeanne M. Karr, Volunteer Coordinator, Beacon Hospice, an Amedisys Company

Beacon Hospice volunteer, Linda Aherns-Posc describes a special encounter with a patient and family.

I arrive to Mr. H’s room on a late Friday afternoon and am greeted with fatigued smiles from family members. I offer respite to a family weary of waiting. I will stay with their father until they return. He is hot, his breathing rapid and raspy, sporadic coughing fits seemingly coming from his abdomen, as he pushes and pulls with his arms and hands, almost like he is trying to escape from his earthly body. I hold his hands and gently guide his arms so he does no harm. The nurse comes in with additional medication. As I cool him off with a wet washcloth, gently caress his hands, soothe him with my voice telling him he is not alone and I will stay with him until his family returns, he slowly calms. Peaceful.

I return Saturday morning 7:30 am. With sadness in their eyes and weariness in their voice they ask: “How much longer will this go on?” I have no answer and simply say “I would be honored if you will allow me to stay with him while you take some time.” They are thankful and reluctantly leave. His breathing is rapid and difficult to listen to as it sounds like he is struggling. The nurse comes in with additional medication (every hour now) and the aide bathes him, combs his hair and we change his position in bed. He looks so handsome and is breathing comfortably now. His family returns two hours later and says “He looks so peaceful. Like he is sleeping” It is all I can do.

It is noon and I am being pulled back to Mr. H. As I walk in his daughter looks to me and says: “I didn't think you would come back. Oh, thank you. I need to step out for a while”. As she leaves, I hold his hand and talk to him: “Hi Mr. H. I told you I would be back to see you. I am glad your son came to see you this morning. Your daughter needed a little time to herself but she will be back soon. Oh Mr. H. your beautiful granddaughter is sitting right beside you. Your family loves you so.” I turn to get a wet washcloth to soothe his forehead. I turn back to the bedside, touch my other hand to his forehead and I know immediately he is gone. Quietly…so, so peaceful.

I can think of no greater honor than the privilege of being present as another human being's life ends. There are no guidebooks, there are no rules to follow, and there are no words that I can say that makes it easy.   There is only the path leading from your heart.  Follow it and do not fear it.  Trust it to lead you where you need to go. 

Learn more about Beacon Hospice.

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