For years now, my assignment as a hospice volunteer has been to spend time with a patient and collect stories about their life. I also spend time with family members who provide photographs to help tell the story. Once gathered, I combine these bits and pieces of their life into a hardbound book—a life journal—which we then present to the patient and their family.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I can no longer personally spend time with a patient. Now, stories and photos must be gathered by phone and email. The pieces are more difficult to assemble, but we make it work because it’s important to continue this service for our hospice families.
With no personal contact whatsoever, my latest journal turned out to be a wonderful experience. I normally begin collecting data using a generic list of questions about family, school, jobs, and major life events, but that was not going to work in this case. The patient, blind since birth, had never held a job, gotten married or had children. It was obvious from the start this would be a unique project.
The patient could not communicate with me, so I obtained information from her sister. After several exchanges back and forth, I learned that our patient was very much loved by her family, especially her father whom she evidently had wrapped around her little finger! She was blessed with an impressive memory and could tell you the date of everything she found significant in her life. She remembered the exact dates her parents bought cars, furniture, and appliances. She knew every 70’s sitcom character, both their TV name and their real name, and she could play anything on the piano after having heard it just one time.
I asked for a few words to describe our patient as a child, and some that would describe her as an adult. Her sister told me the words would be the same: sweet, easy-going, and funny. I asked for an example of her sense of humor. Apparently when it was cold outside, she would pull her stocking cap down over her face. “What difference does it make”, she’d say. “I can’t see anything anyway!”
I also wanted to know what never failed to make her smile, and this is the story I got: Their father’s pet name for our patient was “Josephine”, which in no way resembles her actual name! He would come home from work and walk through the house calling for Josephine. “Hey Josephine! Where are you, Josephine?” Sometimes he’d walk right past her and pretend not to see her, then he would “find” her and say, “Oh, there you are, Josephine!” So, what can you do to make her smile? Walk into the room and call her Josephine!
The thing that made this experience so special was the family’s reaction to the finished product. I sadly couldn’t give them the journal in person (which is usually my favorite part), but I know how much they appreciated it from emails sent by the sister, and the special Christmas card I got from the patient herself. The icing on the cake of this particular project was that our home office printed a second journal – this one in braille so our patient could read it herself. When I heard that, I smiled… like someone had just called me Josephine!
Photo credit: Bing Search
See my other Hospice Stories here: