Lenore's Archive

If you want to contribute to Hospice

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

The Washington County Hospice Dogs, among the few Hospice dogs in the

May 8, 2008 – Many people have e-mailed asking how they can make a contribution to Hospice on behalf of Helen, who died last Saturday, and Warren. If you want to send a contribution to the Washington County Hospice and Palliative Care program, you can send it to:

Friends of Hospice
415 Lower Main Street
Hudson Falls, N.Y., 12839

Or you may contribute to your local Hospice. Hospice is a network of organizations and people who support people who are in the final stages of advanced illness, or who are terminally ill. Hospice is available for anyone with any kind of advanced illness, and is designed to provide a team of caregivers who help patients die with choice, comfort and dignity, at home, in nursing homes or hospitals, or in special facilities.

When you don’t want to go

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

The Hound of Love reflects on the foibles of humanity

May 7, 2008 – It was sometimes difficult, occasionally painful, but I always wanted to go see most of the Hospice patients I’ve been assigned to. I generally like them, and the people around them. I have been confronted lately with a patient on the other end of the spectrum, one I do not want to go visit. There are no poems or sweet memories, no laughter or warm moments on these visits, no people much to like or talk to. Honestly, I don’t think I like him very much.
If Warren and  Helen’s life sometimes seemed like a sweet love story, the home Izzy and I went to late today was nothing like a fairy tale. It was our sixth visit, and I have struggled with every one of them.
The patient is a man in his 50′s almost totally disabled by chronic degenerative disease, who sits alone in a corner of house, empty, but for him and private nurses.
He cannot move, cannot speak. The family will not permit photos of him, which is fine, but a relative told me the reason was because they didn’t want anyone to see him, because he “used to look human.” This comment was made in front of the man, whose eyes told me – he can’t speak much – that he heard every word. Unlike many of the other patients, I am not drawn to him, or of what I could see and glean of his life.
He loves animals and Izzy and Lenore have both visited with him, to his evident pleasure. The nurses are efficient, and he is well cared for, but there is little regard for his dignity, and we often see things that are uncomfortable, for me, and, I am sure, for him. I guess I don’t much like his nurses either, also unusual for me. Mostly, we feel very welcome when we visit. In this house, I often don’t.
A number of other things have bothered me about this house. This patient is, in fact, disfigured, and difficult to be around for other reasons. I thought of the beautiful meticulously cared for people I often see, and then remembered that it isn’t always like that, and aren’t the others in particular need?
This is a different experience with death than I usually see, but he has chosen to be where he is, and that is his decision, and his family’s not mine.
I was so bothered by these visits that I told Keith Mann, the Volunteer Coordinator, that this was the first Hospice patient I’d been assigned to that I didn’t want to visit.
I guess I had expected him to tell me not to bother, although I should have known better.
“Those are sometimes the ones you really need to go see,” he responded. I thought a lot about that and understood what Keith meant.
So recently, I left Lenore home and piled Izzy in the car and we went to see this man, in this spooky house and difficult environment, and I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell and shuddered, and reasoned that it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t like, these visits are about offering comfort and support to someone approaching the end of his or her life.
If it matters whether I am comfortable, then the visits are about me, not them. An easy trap to fall into, but not the point of the work.
It was also true that the visits with Warren and Helen were so powerful, and yielded many rich things – poems, photos, conversation, love – that I needed to turn my head around and get back into the real world of Hospice, which is sometimes loving and warm, sometimes painful and disturbing. This man’s passage is painful and disturbing. Is my responsibility any different?
So Izzy and I stormed the house like Marines heading for a beach. I brought photos of the farm, a couple of flowers plucked from my garden, a short story to read and the Soul Dog. We swept into his room, past the clucking nurse, propped up a photo of the goats, and saw him smile. Then I read him a short sports story – he is a football fan – and he nodded and grinned.
Then I called Izzy up onto his bed, and Izzy slithered up alongside of him, and put his head on the man’s shoulder. The grin was wide, and he nodded enthusiastically, more relaxed and at ease than I had ever seen him.
A half hour we left, promising to come back in a few days. I called Keith and said, “hey, you were right about this visit. These are ones you need to make.”
It might be the most important Hospice visit I’ve made.

Come see Hospice Journal: Gardenworks, June 8

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Warren and Izzy

May 6, 2008 – You are invited to Gardenworks, Route 30, Salem, N.Y. at 2 p.m. on June 8 for a presentation of “Hospice Journal: Pictures and stories from the edge of life.” I will be there, along with Hospice dogs Izzy and Lenore, and some of the photos and poems from Hospice Journal. I will talk about my Hospice experiences, and my work with the dogs, and Hospice officials will talk about what Hospice is and how it works. In addition, Gardenworks will be offering its usual eclectic and beautiful mix of cheeses, flowers, baked goods and local fresh organic farm produce in its beautiful spaces and barns.
In addition to the photos, I will be reading one of two of the Living Poems that have come out of the Hospice experience.
This is the first exhibit of the Hospice Journal photos which it now seems will be touring the country this summer and fall. Some of the Hospice photos are on sale through All the Right Angles of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (alltherightangles @ verizon.net). A portion of the proceeds go to Hospice.

When there is no hope, love, laughter

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Warren, Izzy, this afternoon. Two friends comforting one another

May 3, 2008 – It was a Friday night, and it could have been any group of friends gathering after dinner to talk, and you would think that if you didn’t notice the woman so still, barely moving or breathing in the hospital bed amidst all of the tubes and cannisters, lotions and pills. For a few minutes, you could forget what was about to happen, what we all knew was about to happen, the only ending usually possible in the world of Hospice.
Warren was beaming, listening to the stories, nodding and smiling, looking over at his wife of 60 years every few seconds. His daughter Berta and her husband Bob and their two children, Jessie and Brandi, were telling stories about their beloved dog Pepper, in the affectionate, beaming way dog lovers tell stories about their dogs. I was telling stories about my dogs, the farm, the movie crew that invaded my life for a few months, the movie dogs.
Lenore and Izzy were working the room, Lenore trailing smiles and laughter everywhere she went, the Hound of Love doing her thing, and Izzy doing his advanced social work, working the room one person at a time. We were all laughing, smiling, nodding. There was a lot of  warmth in the room, everyone well aware of why we were all there, yet we also knew that the experience was not only about grief.
We were all, for a few minutes, having a good time, and Warren was stepping out of himself for a bit, enjoying his family, being the Pater Familias, and once in awhile I would look up at the woman in the bed, and blink, and come back to earth and at one point, I asked myself, so where is God?, that he would allow Helen to suffer for so long, put Warren through this, test him this way, and at that point, I realized that this scene didn’t mean God wasn’t there, but that this, perhaps is what God is really like, bringing this merriment and comfort into a place where there was no hope, the piercing juxtaposition of gaiety and enormous grief etched in Warren’s every wrinkle, showing in between the smiles.
This wasn’t just about death and loss, but life.
Grief is, after all, an unnatural state, and as powerful as it is, it lives alongside and battles other powerful emotions – friendship, laughter, a need to just live. Often in Hospice work, you see this warmth, laughter, joy even, side-by-side with pain and sadness. God, then, is not about sparing us pain but teaching us how to live with it, and beyond it.
In the middle of the night, Helen died, as we expected she would, and the next morning, when we all met, everyone said how wonderful the evening was, how glad they were that this was a time to laugh and step outside of that room, and how much Helen would have – possibly did – enjoy the laughter, as stories and laughter were so important to her.
Almost every night, as Warren and I talked, Helen would ask if it was okay for her to close her eyes and go to sleep. She loved listening to stories, she said, to hear Warren solve the problems of the world.
This, I understood, was why Warren was smiling, and everyone else could laugh. Helen was telling a story, too.

Izzy and Lenore: Comfort and joy

Helen and Warren

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Warren, Izzy and Lenore
Warren with Lenore and Izzy tonight

April 26, 2008 – For the first time since I’ve known him, Warren said things were “not good” when I arrived at the house. I could see that was so. Helen did not quite recognize me for the first time and seemed weak, and very tired. Warren seemed exhausted.
We brought some food and will go back tomorrow and read to Helen and help Warren out. Neither dog visited with Helen, although Izzy went over to check on her, and both hung around Warren.
No more  efforts to go out into the garden are planned. Helen has flowers from her garden and pictures of the garden. Next week ends my month of working full-time for Hospice, although I will surely keep up the work.
I feel both dogs are now fully prepared for Hospice work,  Lenore as well as Izzy. She is developing some of his intuition.
I will begin writing “Rose” a book describing my life with Rose, a remarkable dog, and that also looks at the question of animals and souls.
I am grateful for Hospice, and the things it has brought the dogs and I.

No garden trek today

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Lenore at work

The Hound of Love, scrunched in a corner of a hospital bed, working hard yesterday to keep Helen company. Lenore can relax anywhere. Helen will not be able to make it to her garden today. She had a long and challenging night. We will try again this weekend or next week.

New volunteer class – Be fulfilled

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

April 16, 2008 – Izzy, Lenore and I went to talk to the new class of Washington County Hospice volunteers, undergoing their training under the watchful eye of Hospice Honcho Keith Mann (I call him “Sarge,” which he hates: “you will do your paperwork on time!”).
Hospice is not easy to join. Lots of screening, intense training. You need all of the training, I told the new class. We talked about all the ways people can contribute – stories, photos, music, listening.
Hospice, I find, is often misunderstood. It is not a place to die, a cancer treatment facility, or a hospital. It is a network of institutions, groups and people gathered to help ease the mistreatment of the dying – their isolation and exhaustion, and most importantly, to help individual people die well, and with the dignity and comfort and choice to which they are entitled. Hospice groups vary from place to place, but they often consist of doctors, nurses, social workers, health aides and volunteers who help people driven to the very edge of life decide how they want to leave us. We help the patients and their families in a variety of ways. Sign up. There is a Hospice in your community. This work is not for everyone, but if it is for you, it can be very meaningful.
Be fulfilled. Help ease the process of dying, which in our culture is often shunned by much of the world. Help someone die well.