Posted in Moving forward

Where You lead, I will follow

Seems like life changes if not daily, then certainly week by week, with the unexpected coming unexpectedly just when you think you have things finally figured out.

I like change. I do. No one could say that I haven’t had a few changes this past year, though certainly not all good. And while sometimes change is hard (sometimes!?), once you get on the other side of it, you find your new normal and settle in. Until it changes again.

In 2018 I retired from a job I really loved for a man I thought I loved. We had fun during early retirement, traveling around the country visiting friends and family and enjoying the newness of no routine. Then in 2020 during COVID my former boss asked if I was interested in coming back to hospice to help a fellow worker, and I could do it remotely. I’ve always loved working from home; I did it for 15 years as a court reporter while raising my family. I’m disciplined enough – or maybe I just love what I do enough – to sit myself down and do the work that needs to be done. I told her yes, absolutely. That was almost two years ago.

Since then, the office management changed, and I was told my position was actually not a position at all. I could no longer work from home. They said I could come back and work 40 hours a week, but because of the distance, I had to decline. Then, because I knew the position so well, I was asked if I would be willing to train the people in the office. In a nutshell, I was asked to train myself out of a job.

Fast-forward, and I have spent the past two weeks driving 35 miles to the office and back every day doing the training that was asked of me. They brought someone from the Orlando office that needed training. I’ve trained the two workers from my office. And then upper management came in and started showing me all kinds of new things until I finally asked her, “Why?” Her response? “I’m training you to train.”

This past week they let one of the office staff go, and I am now faced with a choice. I can have my old job back, and they will allow me to work part-time at the office making the drive three days a week instead of five. Or I can accept a position as a type of regional trainer traveling to other offices throughout the state helping organize and train in the role I know so well, working only as needed. And while that sounds ideal, what happens when I’m no longer needed?

On the one hand, I like the idea of being in a familiar place doing familiar things with people I know and enjoy. I’m good at it. It’s the drive I don’t like. On the other hand, I rather like the idea of going to different places, being challenged in new ways, and having my expenses paid for however long that takes. I suppose I can simply try one of these and see how I like it.

It’s yet another change looming in the not-too-distant future. But this time I’m open to it. I’ve been talking to God, telling Him I’ll go wherever I’m led without worry or angst because I know the path is already laid out for me. And while I don’t know what His plan IS for me, this time I’m trusting my Spirit and will follow where it leads.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven, Mom

“*Supermarket Flowers”

Rita Marie O’Connor
12-31-1926 to 3-7-2022

Last year I thought my mother was dying. We’d put her on hospice in June of 2021 and watched her decline over a few weeks. And then she rallied. She didn’t come back a hundred percent, but she did come back. She had lots of visitors between June and year’s end, and we celebrated her 95th birthday along with the rest of the world on New Year’s Eve. A month later we discovered a water leak had caused lots of damage and excessive mold in the house, and with that, my siblings decided it was time to bring mom back to Michigan. Within a very short time, we met my brother and his wife at the airport, and mom left us to go to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to a very nice apartment in an assisted living facility where, at 95, she would live by herself for the first time in her life. Even with lots of family members nearby, it did not go well.

Confused, disoriented, looking for her family, she only seemed herself when one of us was with her. She had her walker on hand, but left alone, she would always push it to one side and then hold onto furniture as she made her way around her little place. She couldn’t remember what the SOS bracelet on her wrist was for. Day to day she could not seem to remember why she was there, saying she felt like she was just dropped off and left. Her forgetfulness grew even worse, and though she had visitors every single day, until they came, she was lost. My sister had cameras in place to check on her, but it was heartbreaking to see and hear her confusion at night, knowing there was little to be done but call in and ask someone to please check on her.

And finally she fell. Twice. The first was just a scraped knee. She was shook up but quickly forgot about it. A day later, in the early hours of the morning, either her bad leg gave out or she had a slight stroke. They found her on the floor in the hallway near the bathroom, her left shoulder dislocated. At the hospital, under sedation, they tried to put the shoulder back in, but due to a fractured humerus and her extremely fragile bones, all they could do was strap her in a brace and send her ‘home.’ That day, Monday, February 28th, was the beginning of the end.

I was already scheduled to fly up to see her the following weekend. But after my sister called on Wednesday and asked if I could come sooner, I got on a plane the next day to offer her some much needed relief. Mom was confined to her hospital bed. It took nearly 24 hours, but with Kindred Hospice’s help, we found the right medicinal cocktail to ease the pain and anxiety her ordeal had caused. She had difficulty forming words with enough breath to speak them. She’d stopped eating and drinking.

It was a fast decline from there. All my Michigan siblings came to see her along with many nieces and nephews. She would ask what was happening, and we tried to be honest with her. I slept on the couch in her living room not wanting to be too far away from her. On Friday she kept trying to get out of bed, pulling herself up, saying the word, ‘pee.’ I told her she was not able to get up, she had hurt her shoulder, but she was insistent. When she tried to move further, the pain in her left shoulder would stop her. I talked with my nurse friend back home who suggested she needed a foley catheter. I immediately called hospice, and within an hour a nurse came out to give her relief. She filled the bag, poor thing, but her agitation finally stopped. Friday evening I was sitting next to her bed, my head resting on my arm on the half rail combing her hair with my fingers the way she did when I was a child. She turned to look at me and said in her garbled speech, “I love you so, so much.” I said, “I love you more.” She smiled and said, “We could be sisters!” I laughed and told her, “That works for me!” Then she smiled and made a low, breathy, “Huh-huh” laugh. Saturday and Sunday there were lots of visitors, but mom was rarely alert enough to do more than squeeze a hand. Nurses and aides asked if she had said her goodbyes to everyone. We assured them that we had told mom repeatedly that we were all going to be okay and that she can go be with dad. “But has she heard from them all?” She had not.

So Sunday evening I contacted each of the three siblings in Florida and told them we would be calling them and putting the phone to mom’s ear so she could hear them. And this woman, this mother of 11 who had not moved for close to 36 hours, turned her head at the sound of her child’s voice and listened as each one said their separate goodbyes.

Everyone went home, and I eventually went and laid on the couch. I fell into a deep sleep only to awaken suddenly about 12:35 a.m. I quickly got up and went into mom’s room finding her in the same position, but not breathing. I sat down, put my fingers on either side of her throat and felt a faint pulse. I attempted to sing to her the same song she sang for dad before he died, “Goodnight sweetheart; well, it’s time to go…” In less than 10 minutes, her heart – her big, beautiful, loving heart – stopped beating, and she died at 12:45 a.m. I sat there with her, combing her hair back, so grateful for being woken to be with her at the end, smiling through my tears thinking about the glorious reunions happening in heaven.

How did I get so lucky, out of 11 kids, to be the one to be there when this sweet, wonderful woman left this earth?

*In the words of Ed Sheeran’s “Supermarket Flowers ©,”

“Hallelujah! 

You were an angel in the shape of my mom. 

You got to see the person I have become. 

Spread your wings, and I know that when

God took you back, 

He said, ‘Hallelujah, you’re home.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven, Mom

The other side of hospice

My mother may be dying. Five words that, when said to myself, feel like they don’t mean anything; at least not anything real.

My 94-year-old mother has been living here with us in Florida since last Thanksgiving. She had previously lived with my brother in Michigan for the past 14 years, minus the winter months with me, since my dad’s passing. But circumstances brought her to us for longer than the typical winter months, and now she is in her bedroom, in a hospital bed, and for all I know, she is dying.

Did I mention I work for hospice? I know about people dying. I’ve talked to them or their caregivers and I’ve offered words of reassurance. But what did I know? My dad was on hospice in the hospital where he died, but only for a few days, and it seems far removed from this. This is different.

Mom is now on our hospice. She has an angel of a nurse and a wonderful aide. She has all the accoutrements of a hospital room, but she’s home, with us. And instead of hearing the reassuring words I’d uttered to others, I have tunnel vision. I feel inept. Like I’m not doing enough, but I don’t know what enough is.

She surprises us. She’ll be totally wiped out and barely able to get up enough strength to use the bedside commode. She’ll be in bed all night and all day eating and drinking little to nothing. And then suddenly I’ll see her dressed, coming out of the bedroom smiling, saying, ‘Hi, Honey!’ She has raised 11 children, worked tirelessly in and outside the home, traveled near and far. She is part of that generation that feels she’s not supposed to stop.

I’ve been trying to keep my 10 siblings updated as much as possible. The challenge seems to be, though, that my dire narration is often followed by a ‘never mind’ report making me feel foolish, like I’m jumping the gun or something.

She says this is dumb. “This is so dumb.” “I just wanna feel better.” “If I’m gonna kick the bucket, I wish I’d just kick the bucket.” I have no response to that. Part of me wants her to join her beloved Charlie, whom she has had to live without for 14 years. Of course, the selfish part of me wants her to rally once again, to go to breakfast with us, to drive to the ocean and watch the surf. And it could happen.

Being on this side of hospice is eye-opening and humbling. I can do this part, caring for her, making her comfortable, accepting the thanks from my brothers and sisters for something I’d have fought them for. This part is easy.

I’m not sure about the next part. She’s the last of them. She deserves to go peacefully to her husband and loved ones gone before. My mind knows this absolutely. I want it for her, too.

But my heart…

I hope I’m as strong as I need to be.

Posted in Moving forward, Randomness

Unretired.

Kindred Hospice Staff

When I tell people I retired from hospice, the atmosphere changes around us. Things get quiet, more somber, and they invariably say thank you. But it’s not like that. Hospice is the best place I’ve ever worked. You hear, ‘You have to be a special kind of person to work in hospice.’ And when it comes to those doing patient care, I would have to agree. It’s definitely not for everyone. I’ve seen quality staff members come and go in a matter of months, some of them walking off the job leaving us and their patients high and dry saying, ‘I can’t do this.’ I’ve seen tears of sorrow and frustration as well as the ‘aha’ moments that make it all worthwhile. The ups and downs of this job in this hurricane-prone area are abundant. I will be the first to admit that not all hospices are created equal, but mine set the bar quite high.

The hospice care team consists of a Medical Director, a registered nurse, a social worker, a spiritual advisor, and a CNA. It is an interdisciplinary team, and they are remarkable. These special people go into patients’ homes, with all the dynamics you can imagine, and they go above and beyond. It’s not easy. Sometimes a patient’s family members are in denial. “Don’t tell my husband you’re with hospice.” Sometimes they are demanding and high maintenance. “I need at least six more packs of wipes!” But sometimes the patient is alone.

I worked in the office coordinating care alongside my Manager of Patient Care, a veritable dynamo in her own right. I learned about a level of compassion and empathy I’d not seen before. I was amazed at the number of staff who had lost a child of their own now working in hospice. I became accustomed to the quirky humor that comes out of nowhere adding a macabre levity to the scene. These people are different, but in a way that slowly and permanently endears you to them in a most profound way, and they would do everything in their power to fulfill a patient’s end-of-life dream.

This job can burn anyone out even if you are that special kind of person. And that’s not taking away from anyone who tried it and chose to work elsewhere. I’ve worked with people who have been with hospice 25, 30 years. To me they’re angels on this earth doing God’s work in an atmosphere where sadness and grief can be the tenor of the day. At any time of day or night, any one of the care team will stand a bedside vigil while someone takes their last breath. There may be family members present with questions to be answered. Or there may be no one, with only our hospice team member there with them so they’re not alone at the end. These people will attend funerals, send cards, and check up on the family in the ensuing days.

So many don’t understand the hospice philosophy: “At the center of hospice is the belief that each of us has the right to die pain free, with dignity, and that our families will receive the necessary support to allow us to do so.

Having hospice doesn’t mean you’re going to die in a week or a month. There are certain criteria to be met before one can even be admitted to hospice care. And you don’t have to be in a hospital or facility. You can be home where you’re most comfortable and the care comes to you. It can go on for many, many months or even years, depending on the case.

If you have a problem, you’re covered. Any issues are covered, and it’s such a relief. It has taken a lot of grief out of our life…Don’t look at hospice as a last-ditch effort; they are there and can help well before the end. ~Larry, Kindred Hospice patient

My manager asked if I would be interested in coming back part-time to help her. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.