An amazing experience in the hospice today
I think I am going to do this hospice volunteering thing even after I get a job later. It is amazing how people who are close to dying can value any time you can give them and how what they say can break every stereotype you might have of a dying person.
Take Mr. Strauss as an example. (All names made up to protect privacy). I came back from vacation and the first email that hit me this morning stated that Mr. Strauss has declined and will be transitioning soon. “Declining” and “transitioning” are euphemisms used in hospice language to let you know that you are reaching your goal line.
Well, after my afternoon run, I hightailed to the hospice he was in and timidly knocked on the door. And then pushed it in. I could clearly see that Mr. Strauss was surrounded by a few relatives and had oxygen pipes running up his nose. Not sure whether to bother him and his near and dear ones in his last few hours, I tentatively asked if I could come in.
I had to explain to his relatives who I was. But Mr. Strauss, a cancer patient – who could barely talk thru the end of his disformed mouth – told his relatives “I know him. Let him in.”
You know, he did not look as bad as I thought. Clearly he was in “transition”. But he was in good spirits. As his family left, he asked me if I was leaving too.
“Not really”, I told him
“Good”, he said.
That is when I knew that the schedule of the rest of my evening was shot. (Srinivas, I hope you will understand and give me a get-out-of-jail card for this).
I hung around Mr. Strauss. And I talked to him for nearly two hours. There were a lot of things he said. I am going to highlight a few of them here because I think there are learning points here.
One thing he mentioned is how incredible glad he was how his five kids have turned out to be.
“Raj, tears come to my eyes, to think what they have done for me”.
“Well, certainly you have passed your genes to them”, said I, boosting his ego.
“No. I was the tough, disciplinarian dad. I wish I was not so tough on them. I think they get it from their mom”.
I find out over the next hour that he lost his wife early to Alzheimers. Never remarried.
“Let me tell you something, Raj”
“Yes, Mr. Strauss”
“Never be tough on your kids. They need support, not discipline”.
Not totally sure how to respond, especially since one of my kids is beyond the age where I have any influence, I put out a meek “Great thoughts, Mr. Strauss”.
A few moments of awkward silence later, I tried to move on – “Other than your kids, Mr. Strauss, what are you very proud of yourself?”
Seeing him think deeply, I prepared myself for some insightful wisdom. What I got was…
“I never went to jail”.
Guffawing my heart out, I told him “Let’s keep it that way”.
I was way, way – I mean way way – over my time.
Eventually, it was his dinner time.
As I shook his hand and took leave, I said “I will see you soon”
He did not let go of my hand.
“Thank you for coming.”
“My pleasure, sir”
“Will you come tomorrow?”
“That was my plan, sir”
“Good”, said he as he released my hand.
I had lied through my nose.
That was never my plan.
Well, now it is.
I need him to stay alive till then.
There is a pride in kids only a father can sense from another father.
I will be there.