The last week has been quite an emotional roller coaster for me; as the elderly lady I have cared for since my retirement four years ago passed on to join her loved ones in heaven. Through the months, weeks, and days leading up to her passing, I have now come to better understand the process of dying. The hospice nurses were a timely gift and surely they were angels sent straight from heaven to help the family and caregivers understand what was happening with this dear lady. I am honored and forever grateful that I was the caregiver with her on the day she received visits from the loved ones who had gone before her. Throughout the day, the look of wonderment and awe on her face touched me beyond words. With each visit, her eyes opened wide and she gasped as if shocked to see a departed loved one standing before her. The smile that spread across her face reflected the joy, wonder, and love she had for that individual. As she smiled, she reached out, her eyes following them across the room, only to be met with another gasp and smile of recognition as yet another loved one appeared before her. This went on throughout the day. I took her hand and asked who was visiting with her that could make her smile so. Each time, she faintly squeezed my hand, smiled and nodded her head to acknowledge I knew friends and family were among us. In the afternoon, through my tears I was able to share with her that I too had a visitor. Upon returning from getting a fresh glass of water for her, I found a feather next to her bedside seat. I knew immediately that this was a gift from my dear husband, letting me know that he was with me on this day, helping me to accept what was happening and to share in her joy of preparing for her next life. This is an experience that has surely changed me.
I titled this blog “Tails of Comfort” because of the family dogs that held vigil throughout the process. Casey, a border collie, was very protective of Mrs. R, even before her life began to fade. However, throughout her last days, he held vigil at the bottom of her hospital bed, at the very spot where her recliner had provided a clear view of her favorite television shows. Casey kept watch, his head on his front paws, eyes searching for movement, and ears at attention listening for faint sounds coming from underneath the pastel quilt. Mulligan, on the other hand, only a year old and as spunky and playful as a Golden Retriever puppy can be, searched for every opportunity to occupy the little hassock that had been positioned beside her bed. In the event a family member or caregiver left her watching post for a moment, Mulligan was quick to claim the spot as his own. He sat and watched in wonder as this great lady, with a big heart and mischievous personality, now quiet and still, awaited her journey to loved ones that had gone on before her. Every once in a while he nudged at the quilt, letting her know that he was nearby.
I have always been a bit of a coward when it comes to death and dying, but one thing I know for sure is that I have been profoundly affected by this experience. It has made me rethink some of the work that my puppy, Jellybean, and I do as members of a therapy dog organization. I have tended to shy away from elder care, hospital and hospice work. Perhaps it is time to reconsider, letting go of my own insecurities, and allow my puppy the opportunity to spread joy and love as only a four-legged pup can do. This would be a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady who touched my life and others in so many ways.