Monday, May 15, 2023

The Sweetest Hospice Visit

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I volunteer at hospices as a threshold singer through the international organization, Threshold Choir, founded by Kate Munger. Today’s song visit at the hospice is still on my mind because of one of the recipients who I’m still smiling about hours later. She’s 92, I believe she said, and she was a respite patient (meaning she’s there to give her caregiver a couple of days’ break, but she’s not in her final hours or anything). 

 She was asleep when we walked in, and we often do sing in super soft, lullaby voices as they sleep as long as the nursing staff has given us the go-ahead. We walked in and put down our chairs (we carry little stools so we can sit at the foot of the bed) and before we could sit, she woke up, looked at us like we were crazy, then shouted “WHO ARE YOU?!” When our song leader tried to answer, she shouted “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” 

We ascertained through a variety of lip reading, shouting, and flailing attempts at hand signals that she’s deaf as post and doesn’t wear her hearing aids because “THEY DON’T WORK ANYWAY.” But we did figure out that she could hear us if we were right next to her and shouted near her, so when we finally managed to communicate who we were and what we were doing in her room, she got herself all sat up again and invited us to stay and sing. 

And sing we did! Instead of our usual soft lullaby voices, we closed the door a bit so as not to disturb the entire building and proceeded to belt at the top of our lungs old songs that she’d know the lyrics to: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," "You Are My Sunshine," and other popular songs were a hit, and she actually sang along with us and in tune! It absolutely made her day, she clapped along and smiled and tapped her little feet, and offered us whatever pastry was on her plate (we declined), and told us a bit about herself, and then she wanted to know where we sing. 


 “Not up in Wilmington?” 

 “No. Here and down into Myrtle Beach.” 

 “Oh? Well, this is a nice place. It’s new, you know. And it’s not like I’ve seen the whole place, but I’ve been here since Thursday, and this room is nice, the food is nice, and everyone has just been so nice. Yes, it’s a nice place …. well, that’s an odd thing to say about somewhere you go to die, but you know what I mean. It’s just really nice.” 

And she’s right. The facility I sing in is small: seven patient rooms. It’s built in a large circle so that every room has an outdoor patio with rocking chairs. There’s an indoor courtyard of pollinator plants in the center of the circle. The patient rooms are like large efficiency apartments minus the appliances, with plenty of space for family and visitors, including a sleeping couch and recliner/twin for family to sleep on and a large bathroom. In the common areas, there is a large lounge with a piano, and a large kitchen stocked with complimentary foods so families don’t have to find somewhere to eat or leave their loved one for too long. There’s a playground, and an indoor play area for children, too. It’s an amazing facility, and I can only hope to be so lucky that if I have to go somewhere else to die, it’s in a place like that. This is the kind of place with a wait list. But what a gift they give to the dying and their families. 

After our voices were spent, our little friend held out her hands for each of us to take hers, and she gave us each a squeeze. I utterly ADORED her. This is soul work, simple and true.

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