Other's Archive

A death in Vermont

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Sunset, Callaway Road, Argyle, N.Y.
Sunset, Callaway Road, Argyle, N.Y.

June 1, 2008 – A county health worker called me early Sunday morning to ask a favor. She knew a woman in Pawlet, Vt., the mother of a friend, who was critically ill and very near the end, she thought, and who said before she died, she would like to meet Izzy, who she had heard about from her daughter, who worked at a nursing home in Washington County, where Izzy had been. And the woman had seen his picture, perhaps in a newspaper, or perhaps in a book.
The woman was quite alone, and wonderful, said the health worker,  and, like many of the people in the realm of the dying, seemed to have been forgotten by the rest of her world. Her pastor came by once a week, and one of her neighbors checked on her. Her daughter did the best she could, but was holding down two jobs and has a sick child of her own to worry about.
The woman was not in Hospice, unfortunately, so did not have social workers, health aides and nurses and volunteers helping or visiting her. Could I possibly make time to visit her? she asked apologetically. I wasn’t sure. It’s not generally a good idea to do that. I’m not covered by any insurance if I visit homes privately, and have no support, either in terms of nursing care or social workers. The one or two times I’ve visited people out of Hospice have been uncomfortable, for different reasons, mostly because the conditions are not always good, and I can’t do anything about it.
Still, I knew this health worker, who had met Izzy many times,  and she was nice and assured me the conditions were good, and something in her voice made me say yes, so Izzy and I went to Vermont mid-afternoon and came to a neat old clapboard on a quiet dirt road. We knocked and heard a soft, weak voice ask us in. Marjorie was lying on a hospital bed in the middle of the living room. She was pale and dawn, and ghostly thin in a way I recognized from other Hospice visits, and she smiled when she saw Izzy, who she recognized. “Izzy,” she said, “I am glad you came.” I got Izzy up into the bed, and Marjorie was smiling more, as I had seen happen so often before, and Izzy, ever the intuitive, seemed to know his way around this home, and this person, and burrowed his head under her hand and the two of them lay frozen in that special time and place for what seemed the longest time, but what was only 10 or 15 minutes, I think.
We talked for a few minutes, but Marjorie was, I could see, exhausted. There was no one else in the house, which troubled me, and would not have happened under Hospice care. I have been trained in Hospice to never be judgmental about patients or their families, and I honor that, but it is painful for me to see people dying alone.
I went out to the car and left a photo of Izzy, said goodbye, promised to come back. I said I was glad to have met her, and I was. She told me in the brief time we talked that she had been a painter at one point in her life, and a photographer, so we got to talk about that, and we talked easily. Two or three faded but beautiful black and white photos were framed on the wall, and I think they were hers.
“I always had a dog, and loved them,” said Marjorie. “I heard about Izzy and I wanted to meet  him. Thanks. He is wonderful.” Yes, I said, he is.
Marjorie was weak and exhausted, and I could see the county worker was right, that she was very ill.
At 8:30 p.m. her daughter called to thank us for coming, and to tell me her mother had died a few hours after we had left, and she was with her, she said, when she passed. I was glad of that.

Hospice Journal hits the road on June 8, Gardenworks

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Lenore, Hospice Dog, at work.

  It looks like the Hospice Journal will be heading around the country. We are planning shows and talks about the photos and experiences in Hospice Journal, and sorting through the requests from different parts of the country. First showing will be at Gardenworks, Route 30, in Salem, N.Y. (518 854-3250) at 2 p.m. June 8. Izzy and Lenore and I will be there, along with some of the photos from the Hospice Journal. The display is called “Hospice Journal: Stories and pictures from the edge of life.” Some of the photos may be sold to benefit Hospice.
 Later in June, we will be appearing in Sarotago Springs (date and place to be announced). Stephanie Arpey from All the Right Angles in Saratoga is preparing the photos and helping select them. She also sells photos from this website and will be selling some of these pictures as notecards and in small form, part of the proceeds also benefiting Hospice (alltherightangles@verizon.net).
  We have had requests from San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Tampa and Sarasota, Fla. and New Jersey as well.
  So come to Gardenworks on June 8 if you can. In addition to the talks and the photos, Gardenworks will be offering it’s usual mix of flowers, gourmet cheeses, baked goods, and fresh farm produce. Blueberry picking will be coming soon there, I think. Come if you can. Meet Izzy and Lenore. Mary Kellogg the poet will be there also.

June 8: Stories, photos from the edge of life

Sunday, May 11th, 2008


May 11, 2008 – Gardenworks, Route 30, Salem, N.Y. (518 854 3250) will present “Hospice Journal: Stories, Photos from the Edge of Life,” at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 8. I will talk about my Hospice work, especially Hospice dogs Izzy and Lenore and Hospice officials will talk about what Hospice is, and how it works. I will bring the dogs and talk about my Hospice experiences and show the Hospice Journal photos for the first time in public. Some can be purchased, to benefit Hospice, thanks to Stephanie at All the Right Angles in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (alltherightangles @ verizon.net). 
  Looks as if this show might go on the road.
  Gardenworks is always worth visiting anyway, a place to buy gourmet cheese, fresh produce, muffins and pies, flowers and crafts, a beautiful way to spend a Spring afternoon.I believe Warren, who participated in the Hospice Journal with  his late wife, Helen will be present, and Mary Kellogg may also pop by to grace us with a poem or two.
 The Hospice Journal has become one of the most important elements in my creative life, and I hope you can come by.

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.

What may dogs teach each other, and me (see below)

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

In the Adirondacks, Izzy came to Barb, so that she wouldn’t have to lean over.

Then Izzy lay down, and made room for Lenore to come over and as she is trained not to jump up,
Barb reached down to her. Izzy lay on the floor until Lenore left, then touched her nose, as if in approval,
and the sat up.

Double-dogging Helen and Warren (see below)

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

Double-dogging Helen and Warren

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

March 16, 2008 – Helen was unable to see the dogs yesterday, but Warren called today and said Helen woke up and said she would love to try again, so we double-dogged her, bringing Izzy and Lenore. The alternate dog visits were short, about 10 minutes each, and then a break. Helen laughed and she and Izzy go into a secret world all of their own, sharing secrets and memories and a lot of affection. She brightened visibly during the visit, became much more energetic.
  These two Hospice dogs pack quite a punch, taking turns staying with Helen, and also visiting with Warren.
  Helen was exhausted, reacted sharply when the dogs – first Lenore, then Izzy – were brought up on the bed and I asked Helen why dogs affected some people so dramatically. “It’s simple,” she said, “it’s because they’re nice.”
  Helen and Warren both said they had dogs all of their lives, and it’s interesting to see how both start smiling and laughing the minute the dogs appear. “You get the sense they really love you,” she said. ” And that matters.”
  I was struck again by the different styles. Izzy makes eye contact and establishes what seems to be a personal relationship. Lenore lies close and still and offers affection and comfort. A rambunctious, inquisitive puppy, she remains still when she is near Helen, and that is important. Helen and her skin are sensitive, there are tubes and medical equipment, even food around. I wouldn’t have thought Lenore could be that quiet, but she is.
  When Lenore is put on the bed, she turns around and faces away from Helen, or other Hospice patients, which is typical of Labs. Izzy, a border collie, uses his eyes, as border collies do when they work, and faces the patients head on.
  Helen was struggling this weekend, and Izzy and Lenore made a difference, and to Warren also, who seems energized by the dogs, and has also bonded with Izzy. This is Lenore’s third visit to Helen and Warren, and when she was done visiting, she curled up by the door and slept. Lenore is getting it. Helen asked us to return as soon as we could.
  I am learning a lot working with Hospice. It is immensely satisfying helping people die the way they want, and in comfort. I am learning to listen. I am learning that you can help, even when outcomes are predetermined, and assurances are pointless.  Some things won’t get better, but they can be  powerful, loving and peaceful.
  I am understanding that the dying don’t need or deserve to be shunned, and they can leave the world in comfort, and with dignity and choice. Warren is battling heroically to give Helen her wish – to stay at home – and Izzy and Lenore are helping shore both of them up. It is always a pleasure to see these two working breeds show their stuff, and live up to their great potential. It is a privilege to share some of life’s most intimate moments with these extraordinary people.
  Helen and Warren are entering a new phase in their experience. Warren has asked for and is getting more household help and working with Washington County Hospice to care for Helen, and for himself. He has ordered a medical recliner. Volunteers are visiting more regularly so that he can rest during the day, since he gets little sleep at night. The couple, much devoted to one another, is tired, determined, at peace.
  We had this moment today: Helen was short of breath, and she asked to lie next to Izzy, who put his head on her stomach and lay still while she stroked him, and she asked me to read to her, and I saw her close her eyes and smile when I read this poem,  by Yeats. Lenore had her head in Warren’s lap, and he is smitten with her, as I am.
   Helen said this had joined her list of favorites. Warren said he loved it also.

                                        “To a Young Girl”

                                   “My dear, my dear, I know
                                    More than another
                                    What makes your heart beat so
                                    Not even your own mother
                                    Can know it as I know,
                                    Who broke my heart for her
                                    When the wilt thought,
                                    That she denies
                                    And has forgot
                                    Set all her blood astir
                                    And glittered in her eyes.”

                                           W.B. Yeats