Hospice Journal by Jon Katz
Aug 1st 2008

Marion: “Izzy, I had a tough day.”

Posted in Izzy, Marion



Marion and Izzy

Marion and Izzy


August 1,2008 – Hot, sticky. Marion and Izzy have a routine now. We go into her room, and Izzy lies on the bed, and Marion strokes his paws and talks to him. The bond between them is palpable, the strongest yet I have seen between Izzy and a human. He seems rapt about her stories, and listens to them for a long time.
  “Izzy, I had a rough day,” she told, relating a day of headaches, discomfort and restlessness. “Izzy, I got in Dutch,” she said. What happened, I asked, getting close – she has trouble hearing. “Well, I was having breakfast and there was an accident, and some of my pudding landing on the nasty man who sits in the corner, and is mean to everyone.” 
  Was it an accident, I asked? Well, yes, she said, of course, but some people thought it wasn’t, although the man had been yelling at her friends. And to tell the truth, it had happened once before. “Izzy, I wouldn’t spill pudding on you, not ever. You are a wonderful dog.”
  Izzy, she added, did I tell you that my husband’s name was Horace, but he was much better than the name? And I loved him and miss him very much, and he was a very good man.
   And his father was named Roscoe, poor man, and he was a Roscoe. And then she told Izzy how you train calves to take milk, slowly and laboriously and patiently, and it was so complex, raising these baby cows, that I couldn’t keep track of it, but Marion had not forgotten any part of the process.
  Don’t go tossing any pudding around,  Marion, I said when I left. You’ll get in “Dutch.” and she smiled a mischievous smile at me. “I wouldn’t ever,” she said.


 We crossed the hall to see Edith, but she had a bad headache and waved Izzy away. We saw our girlfriend Jo, with whom we danced the other night, and she lit up when she saw me. “Hey, cutie,” she said, “you wanna get married?”
  I don’t know, I said. I am married. “I don’t care,” she said. “We can go dancing, every Friday and Saturday night, just like I used to. You wouldn’t believe it, but I used to go square dancing in Shushan every single Friday and Saturday night.
  I believe it, I said. You’re pretty cute yourself. And cheeky. Usually they fuss over the dog.

Aug 1st 2008

Barb: Spot, a poem

Posted in Barb, Poems

August 1, 2008 – Humid, warm. We went to see Barb today, up in the Adirondacks, always a beautiful and evocative drive. Barb said she missed us, and I remembered it had been a couple of weeks since we had made it up to see her. She is tired, and she wanted to sit with Izzy for a bit, and stroke him, as many people seem to want to do. We talked, and caught up, and I felt the responsibility of hospice, which is that you never feel comfortable postponing or delaying a visit, and struggle sometimes to keep up. I was glad that Barb missed us, and also felt badly about it.
  Barb is a sweet and unfailingly generous person, and I don’t want her missing anything she needs that we can provide. Izzy is much in demand now, a different reality than at first, when the idea of a hospice dog was strange.  And I know we can’t do everything and go everywhere. But when you see what Izzy does, you want to do it, as often as  you can. Something to watch out for.

I told Barb I was going to browbeat a poem, out of her, and I got one:

My husband Bill worked in a firehouse in Long Island,
and it was on an air force base, and people were always moving,
and leaving their dogs behind, and they all eventually
made their way to the firehouse.
And Bill really took to one, and we called him Spot, and he was a mutt,
and he hated garbagemen, because they used to throw things at  him,
and he would chase their trucks,
and one day he disappeared, and was gone for days
and we thought he was lost, and then 
a few weeks later, Bill called from the firehouse, 
and he said you’ll never guess, and I said what?
and he said Spot is here. He made it all the way.
And the firehouse was 45 miles from our house.

Jul 31st 2008

On the edge of life, with Izzy

Posted in Barb, Izzy

Jul 30th 2008

Marion: “Izzy, have I told you…?”

Posted in Izzy, Marion


When Marion talks to Izzy, she holds his paw, and closes her eyes, and he lays completely still, for the longest time, and it is almost disconcerting to see a border collie lie like that. And the stories pour out of her like water from a pristine, sparkling spring.

  “Izzy, have I told you that we used to have a farm? And we used to have a good dog named Scout, but he was not a dog like you. I can talk to you, and I can tell you about my life, and my children. They call me often, and that may be them calling now. Can you hear the phone ringing? I can’t see all that well, Izzy, and my hearing has failed, but I am after all, 97 years old. But I see you and hear you and feel you here. What do you do when you aren’t here, Izzy? Where do you go?  Oh, my family would love you. My daughter loves you and my son would so love you, and my husband would too. And I love you.”


 Izzy and I went to Washington County Hospice offices today to do paperwork, under the supervision of Keith Mann, who is meticulous about paperwork, as he is about all things, and then we went to a nursing home in Ft. Edward and we saw Lila, who lay still in a wheelchair, staring ahead. And Izzy came up and put his head on her knee and she looked down at him, every so subtly, and then stared at him and didn’t move or speak. And after some minutes, I leaned over and asked her if she wanted us to come back, and she nodded her head up and down, ever so slightly.

Jul 30th 2008

Portrait, Marion, on the edge of life

Posted in Marion

Jul 29th 2008

Hospice Journal (2): Inner lights

Posted in Izzy, Marion

July 29, 2008 – I am much affected by my hospice work with Alzheimer’s patients. It is so different than I expected. I resisted it, to be honest, and didn’t really want to spend that much time with people who were losing control of their minds, as that is especially frightening and disturbing to me.
  I did it, but it was perfunctory, and I was uncomfortable. I remembered thinking once that these wards were filled with deranged ghosts, shells. That is not so, and I see that now, and am grateful that this  shallow notion was changed.
  Everyone in hospice lives on the edge of life, often isolated and struggling with so many realities and decisions. 
  But people with this disease are sometimes isolated in an especially visceral and lonely way, as it is so easy to leave them off by themselves. Nobody should die alone, but sometimes, the loneliness in this ward is something you can put your hands on.
  But in the Alzheimer’s ward, which is familiar to me now and a very comfortable place to visit, I feel as if I am moving through a sea of spirits, some angry, some fearful, some loving and rich. They are very happy to see Izzy and I, and reward us with much love and attention. In all of hospice work, there is this feeling of deep appreciation, and that is the payoff, really. You never feel more appreciated, anywhere in your life, no matter what you do. In Alzheimer’s work, this appreciation is almost never stated, but it is felt.
  I watch the nurses, who make little money, and work hard, and who project a loving and energetic affection that is inspiring to me. They know how to get through.
 You can get through if you want to get through, and you just have to believe you can. These people know me now, clearly, and they surely know Izzy. I have a bunch of girl friends, and they love attention and are affectionate and generous, and when I punch in the codes  – doors are aways locked – it is with a sense of anticipation, relief, exhaustion,  moving from one reality to another. It is hard work. It is worth it.
  The people I meet there have rich stories to tell, of their homes, their children, their husbands and wives, their dogs and memories. These stories come out in different ways, and you really have to listen, and react. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work, sometimes it does.
  I believe in stories, they are my life in a way, and I know that they are everywhere, in all of us. Especially on the edge of life, where they are important in a particular way.

Jul 29th 2008

Marion, Jo: “I remember you, Izzy.”

Posted in Jo, Marion

July 29, 2008 – Two stories from the edge of life:

  We went to see Marion this afternoon in the Alzheimer’s ward of the nursing home. She sat next to Izzy for an hour and talked to him, and told us of a terrible loss she suffered, and about her life on her farm, and her children, whom she loves so much and talks of constantly, and of the dogs she had. And she and Izzy have attached to one another in the way that certain dogs do with certain people, for all kinds of reasons we can’t see and quite understand.
 After awhile, I saw her telling stories to Izzy, and the smile in her face and her comfort were striking to see. We walked through the hallways, she in her wheelchair, me with the dog.
   “Izzy, you mean so much to me,” she said, back in her room. “I am a very old lady, and I forget things sometimes. But I never forget  you.” The nurse told me Marion asked several times when Izzy was coming today, and she was watching for us.
  She asked about me and my farm, and when we got up to leave she said, at first, “oh, I can’t bear for Izzy to go just yet,” and then caught herself, and said, “but he has to go, the dear thing. What a wonderful spirit he has, and what beautiful paws.”
  What a pleasure to know Marion.

  I had a date this afternoon, with an 75- year-old  woman named Jo, who has dementia. When Izzy and I came in, she turned to me, and said, “will you be my boyfriend?”
  I was a little startled, and people usually fuss over Izzy, not me, and I said, “well, I don’t know. How many boyfriends do you have?”  And she turned to her friend in the next wheelchair and nudged her and then turned back to me, and said, “hey, you’re cute. I like you.” And I don’t hear that all that often, and she said she was pretty forward, and so I agreed to be her boyfriend. And she asked me if I danced. And I said not much, not really.
  And then I had this feeling, and I said, “Jo, let’s dance.” And I sat down in the chair next to her, and I said let’s close our eyes, and we did, and we held hands, and I told her that we were dancing, in a big ballroom, with a big band, and that we were swirling around and around and around. And there was soft music, and happy couples were dancing all around us.
  And then she smiled, and squeezed my hand, and she and her friend laughed in mischievous delight at her wickedness, and she asked if I knew that her husband loved to dance, and they danced all the time, and he was coming to pick her up that afternoon and take her home.
  And when we got up to go, she turned to her friend, and said, “see, I have a boyfriend now and he dances.”