“It Just Took a While,” she said . . .

elevator

My latest hospice patient was full of stories. Millie started telling me stories the minute I sat down beside her. She grew up on a farm with three sisters, so there were numerous tales of chores, animals, strict parents, and of course boyfriends. The boys would come calling on her sisters, not her. She watched as her sisters dated and eventually married, but she was always more comfortable on her own. “I was sure I’d be an old maid”, she admitted, “It’s what I thought I wanted”… and then she met him.

Andy had returned from a two-year enlistment in the Navy. Back home with his parents in Pennsylvania, he felt lost and didn’t know what to do with his life. His uncle was a farmer in Kansas who needed help with the harvest, so he moved west. Andy and Millie met when they each drove truck-loads of wheat to the grain elevators in the middle of a long, hot summer.

Millie is proof that there’s always space inside us reserved for someone else and a new way of thinking. She had to adjust her heart and her mind to make room for Andy and for the family they might have someday. “It just took a while”, she said, but once she figured out love had finally come calling on HER, she changed her thinking from “me” to “us”. The life journal I wrote for Millie will be shared with 3 children, 6 great-grandchildren and 14 great-great grandchildren.

A Poem for Millie

Once

she lived inside herself

closed off to the world of affection.

Then

there was a tug at her heart

and a sense of approaching vulnerability.

She felt herself being opened somehow

and she

never found her way back to being closed.

Photo Credit:  Pinterest

Note: Names have been changed

See my other Hospice Stories Here

“I Was More Than That,” she said . . .

war bride

I have the unique privilege of meeting hospice patients for the purpose of writing their life story, so I’ve heard some pretty amazing tales!  I’ve learned about lives well lived, about accomplishments and regrets, and about the way certain events can shape a person’s life forever. It’s been awhile since I last shared a hospice story, so here’s one about a woman who grew up in London during the bombing blitz of WWII. At 18, she became a war bride, but when I met her at the age of 90, she was quick to point out that’s not all she was!

She was born in London in 1928. Her father was a letterpress operator for a London newspaper, the Daily Herald, and her mother was a teacher at a school for girls. She was 12 years old when German warplanes began bombing the city every night for 57 consecutive nights in attacks that continued until May 1941. During the bombings her family took shelter in the basement of a nearby warehouse. She recalls how very loud it was, even underground, and how they tried to drown out the noise by singing and dancing to Glen Miller while bombs were being dropped above them. She remembers the strange color of the sky and the smell of smoke as they walked home each morning through the war-torn city. When the Blitz ended, much of London was destroyed or damaged and 375,000 citizens were left homeless.

She had two sisters and one brother. They, along with her parents, survived the bombings but their home did not. She was 15 before they found a permanent home, having moved from place to place for several years. The best part about having their own home again was being able to take a bath, but she remembers the day her mother drew a 5-inch line around the inside of the bath tub because that’s all the water they were allowed to use due to government restrictions. There were also rations on food, clothing and shoes. She, her sisters and her mother all shared the only five dresses they owned.

When she was 17, dancing was still a favorite pastime just as it had been in that warehouse basement, so one night her sisters snuck her into a dance hall where American GI’s often spent their free time and money. She met her future husband there, dancing the Jitterbug and drinking “bitters”. She soon found out that marrying her young soldier was not going to be easy. American servicemen were met with numerous obstacles if they wanted to marry while overseas. After finally being granted permission from his Commanding Officer (and her parents), they were married in 1946. They enjoyed a two-week honeymoon before he was sent to Paris. Once he knew when he could return to the States, he applied for her to be sent to America as a War Bride. She was summoned to the American Embassy in London for an interview, then put on a waiting list with thousands of other English brides.

Eleven months later, it was finally time to say goodbye to her family and her home. Until then, life in London was all she had ever known. It took over two weeks to sail from Southampton to New York. She remembers being impressed by the skyscrapers, never having seen such tall buildings before.  She also remembers when she got off the ship there was no one to greet her. She was to have been met by her husband’s parents, but her ship, The S.S. Argentina, was several days late. She lived in Boston with her new in-laws, who were strangers to her, for three months while she waited for her husband to come home.

The American GI and his War Bride were married for 32 years and had three sons. He became a car salesman after his discharge from the Army and she was a cook in an elementary school for 14 years. They moved to the Mid-West and opened their own restaurant in 1968. Ten years later, he passed away. She sold the restaurant and opened a pastry shop in a small suburb where her pies and cakes were in high demand. The boys were busy and popular. Her two oldest sons graduated from college and the youngest one joined the Army, like his father.

She was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2015 and was placed on hospice services in 2017. I met her because her family wanted me to document her life story in a journal. They provided me with decades of photos, and I collected memories from her to include in the book. The first time she and I talked, I told her I heard she was a War Bride. “Well, I was more than that!” she said, so I decided not to talk about it further unless she brought it up. I let her tell me she was a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She was an avid reader, a school board member, a devout Christian, and a bird watcher. She loved to travel, to cook and to watch old movies. She and her husband danced together for nearly 30 years. It didn’t take long, however, before she was telling me about the air-raids in London and what it was like to leave home all by herself. Was she brought to America as a War Bride? Yes, she was! But she was SO much more than that!

Here are more of my hospice stories, if you care to read them:

“I Don’t Know You,” she said . . .

“It’s Who I Was,” he said . . .

Write a Positive Page

When Illness Comes (Poem)

Photo credit: Bing search

When Illness Comes

DSC00007 (4)

When illness comes,

what once was a flawless sky

becomes laden with pending rain.

Clouds begin lurking, spreading, darkening…

intent on swallowing the sun.

Thunder rolls in

on the tail of an erratic wind,

obscuring vision with the downpour it brings.

But beyond the threatening storm,

beyond the darkness,

beyond the fear,

is a place where the moon

flaunts his friendly grin

and, one way or another,

the sun will shine again.

Shortly after retiring, I became a volunteer for a local hospice organization. One of the services they provided was the preparation of a life journal for their patients. As a volunteer, I would spend time with a patient, gather stories and photos of their life, then organize that information into a book they could give to their family. I volunteered for several years, taking a hiatus when a new grandchild needed my care. My grandson will start preschool in the fall, so I decided it was time to get back to journal writing. I contacted the volunteer manager who said they’d be happy to have me return. I look forward once again to being in the company of genuinely honest, often courageous, and always appreciative patients who prompted the poem above.

This is my response to RDP#46 – Open.  Sgeoil has challenged us to “Open your eyes…Open your heart…Open the door”, so I say – Yes, let’s do that – with volunteerism! There is always a cause out there that can use our help!

Photo was taken in the Highlands of Scotland

“I Don’t Know You,” she said…

old woman & shadow of lady

Not one, not two, but three times! That’s how many attempts I made to interview a sweet little hospice patient for the life journal her family wanted written about their mother. The first time we met, I introduced myself and told her I wanted to ask her some questions so I could write a story about her life. She wasn’t exactly rude when she turned away from me, but she made it pretty clear that whatever she was focused on outside her nursing home window was exceedingly more important than I was!

I reported back to her family that my visit had not been productive. They assured me they would talk to her. They would remind her this was something they really wanted her to do.

On my second visit, I again introduced myself and asked if we could talk. “But I don’t know you”, she declared, “why would I want to talk to you?”

Third time’s a charm, right? Wrong! I even asked her daughter to be there too, thinking her mother would be more apt to talk if she wasn’t alone with a stranger, but it was just not going to happen!

After the third rejection, I asked the hospice nurse who visited her each day if she would casually ask some questions about her life and report back to me. Over the next month or so, the nurse gathered stories from her and I collected information and pictures from her family. I was able to write a nice narrative about her journey through life.

Several weeks after the hospice nurse delivered the completed journal to her, I received the most delightful note:

 “Dear Hospice Volunteer,

 Thank you for writing my stories and making my book.

 I will cherish it always. I read it over and over.”  

 I was told that for weeks after she received it, she carried the journal around with her daily and showed it to anyone willing to give her a moment of their time. She expressed a desire to meet “the lady who wrote my book”.

So, I made an appointment to “meet” her. Although it was my fourth time there, she did not remember me. “I don’t know you”, she said…again! I pointed to the journal she had proudly displayed on top of her dresser. “But I know you”, I told her, “I’m the one who wrote your book!” She looked at the journal, looked back at me and graced me with a smile I’ll never forget! “Oh, thank you, thank you!” she exclaimed. Her voice and posture were tired and weary, but her eyes and her smile were forever young!

 

Photo Credit: Bing search

“It’s Who I Was”, he said…

Writing Life Journals

I am always intrigued when I meet a hospice patient for the first time because I realize I’m about to hear this persons’ entire life story, or at least the parts of it they are willing to share. I find that most people at the end of life have few regrets and don’t hold back. d90b197c2cf1cf734620e9055f30755fThey pretty much just lay it all out there! I usually ask them to tell me something about themselves their family doesn’t already know. It makes it much more interesting for the family to read later. Some patients struggle to come up with something new. But then there was the man I recently met whose entire life as a young adult will come as a surprise to his family! When I talked to him he told me he didn’t want anyone to read his life journal until after he was gone. His story was essentially a confession, so I wrote it in first-person. With no names, no specifics, no pictures – his story goes something like this:

I was born on a southern farm in the 1930’s. It was a hard life for me as a kid. With no dad at home, I was the man of the house; and since my mother was always having babies, I was basically the woman of the house, too. As the oldest of four boys and five girls, I did the cooking, the cleaning and took care of the kids. I also worked on the farm for $3.00 a week.  My brothers and sisters all got to go to school, but I stayed home and worked. The only time I went to school was when it rained and I couldn’t work on the farm.

We were share croppers. That’s when a landowner allows tenants to use the land in return for a share of the crops. Our farm manager gave each family $20.00 a month and took half of what we produced. We raised all our food: chickens, hogs, beef, vegetables in the garden and grain in the fields. We ground corn into meal for cornbread. The only food we ever bought was flour and sugar. I remember needing coupons to buy sugar because it was rationed during the war.

By the time I was 13, I began to realize what life was all about. I was with my mother day and night in the three room shack we called home. It wasn’t much of a house. I remember lying in bed at night and looking up at the moon through holes in the roof. We would huddle under layers of hand-made quilts to keep warm.

I left home to seek a better life as soon as I turned 18. The next thing I knew, I had a wife and three kids! I found a job out-of-state driving trucks and tractors on a farm. My wife didn’t want to go, so I left her and the kids behind.

Soon after that my new life style began. I was a womanizer; a wine ‘em & dine ‘em – love ‘em & leave ‘em – ladies’ man! My life was nothing but women, whiskey and gambling. I’m not proud of that, it’s just who I was. It seemed like the smartest way to live at the time.

When I started driving a multi-state truck route, I had a woman in each city where I’d spend the night. I knew it was wrong, but they didn’t. They believed me when I told them I wasn’t married. I’m pretty sure I have 10 children, but there might be some “overnight kids” I don’t know about.

When I finally retired from my job, I retired from everything! I quit working, I quit drinking, I quit smoking and I changed my life. “I turned over a brand new leaf and asked the good Lord to forgive what I had done. I wised up. I never meant to do nobody no harm. I hope my family will forgive me.”

I found this man to be genuinely kindhearted and I am happy to say that, yes, his family DID forgive him!

Write a Positive Page

I have been writing life journals for Hospice patients for several years now and I continue to be amazed at some of the stories I am privileged to write: Like the woman whose mother rode the Orphan Train from the east coast to the Midwest where she was adopted by a farm family; or the man who served with three of his brothers on the same ship in the Pacific during WWII before the Navy separated them in increasing fear the ship might sink and all his mother’s sons would perish at once; and the sweet little lady who wore bedroom slippers under her wedding gown because there was a ration on shoes during the war. I recently finished a journal about a man 12 years younger than I am whose life has already ended. Writing a story about someone already gone is often emotionally difficult for me, but because this man’s family was full of nothing but positive things to say about his attitude, his faith and his love; it really wasn’t difficult at all. It served to remind me to smile, to be grateful and to write a positive page in my own life story each and every day!