Jun 16th 2008

When you don’t want to go: Caleb’s passing

Posted in Caleb, Izzy, Lenore

June 16, 2008 – A social worker told me once that Hospice work is the most bounded kind of social work there is. There is only one outcome. This weekend Caleb, who had suffered a series of debilitating strokes, died in his home.
Izzy and Lenore and I had visited him weekly for several months, and I wrote about this patient recently, saying this was the most difficult patient we had visited, the only place we didn’t want to go. We were supposed to see him the day he died.
I did not know him well, or become attached to him. His family did not permit photos.
He loved Izzy, and loved seeing Lenore, yet neither dog reacted to him as intensely as they usually do to the people we visit. I was never comfortable in that house, for all sorts of reasons, and I was reminded by a Hospice official not to drift towards judgment. It didn’t matter what I thought of patients, their families, helpers or environments.
We were there to help people at the edge of life, and if people felt they might be criticized, they might be even more reluctant to seek out help from Hospice or other groups. Besides, when I see what these people are going through, I understand the last thing they need is my sense of what they ought to do or say.
If you don’t want to go, I was told, then that is probably the place you should go. That was good advice. It was always a tough visit, and I rarely felt good about going, yet we cheered Caleb up every time, and seeing his face light up when he saw Izzy and Lenore, and watching him beam as they cuddled  next to him in bed or in his wheelchair proved the point: our job is to bring light into darkness, and the dogs did it well. I could have done better, tried harder. I will next time.
In some ways, Caleb was the most important patient we visited, and I am grateful for that.
I wish him safe passage. It is never easy to lose someone we have been visiting, yet the social worker is right. It is never a surprise.