My first hospice patient – a few years ago now – was a firecracker. The perfect First Patient. She was verbal — hilariously so — and a vibrant, warm, gracious lady. “You know I have cancer, don’t you dear?” she told me on one of my visits. I asked where the cancer was, and she said in her (right) shoulder. Then she said, “And I’m 99, for heaven’s sake!” I told her that shoulder cancer plays no favorites, and she narrowed her eyes at me. Even dry-wits, who are used to being mistaken, are suspicious of other dry-wits.
She told me that she occasionally dreams of dying. I asked if she could tell me about one of those dreams. She said she dreamt that she woke up with mud all over her, but then she sat in her rocking chair, rocking, rocking, rocking… I remarked that it sounded peaceful, and she agreed.
Another time, her next-bed roommate interrupted us many times by offering her lipstick and hair-clip and other articles on her dresser (“Do you want this nice small purse?”) which my patient found amusing. “She’s a good old bag!” she declared to me, with a great big grin.
You should’ve seen her face change when I asked her about the man who’s sweet on her in the group home. She was obviously delighted with his attention, and saw the humor in the situation (well, she saw humor in everything, actually). “I only like him as a friend!” she told me every time, and I just squirmed with mirth to hear her constant caveat, beguiled by her belief that I might think differently.
She also told me when she was going. “I’m not going to exercise in the mornings any more,” she announced one day. Any particular reason, I wondered? She narrowed her eyes at me again. And the conversation faltered a bit, while I cheerfully hoped she’d be feeling more chipper soon. But I had mischaracterized her statement. She was being prophetic, not conversational. Then she declined gently, and died peacefully over the next week.
She was a terrific first experience for me, as a volunteer. A good ol’ bag. She reflected back to me what I wanted to project during a visit: a little wisdom, a little wit, the obvious relish of a good visit. But mostly she reminded me that there was nothing to “do” really, but show up and receive her, however she was going to be that day. To just sit next to her and rock, as it were. Rocking, rocking, rocking..