A memorable statement from one of my hospice friends
Spending time with folks who are in the last short strokes of life sometimes can be very funny, sometimes very educational and sometimes outright heart-tugging. If not anything else, watching the compassion that the patients show to each other and the employees there show to the patients, is singularly educational.
I had a memorable moment day before yesterday. First let me set the context. One of my patients – a octogenarian lady – is more or less physically functional – however her short term memory is pretty much non-existent. She does move around in a wheel chair but she is able to move herself.
She has three kids but I am under strict instructions not to bring the topic of two daughters up unless she happened to mention it and even then I am to just acknowledge and move on. There is a particularly painful history she has with her daughters but let me spare you of that.
The son, on the other hand, is a completely different story. It was her son, as I understand, who moved her from a pretty bad situation and put her in the hospice that is very close to her house. He visits her often with his wife and kids and takes her to their place once a month. She absolutely lights up whenever anybody talks about her son.
My last visit this year to any hospice was this Friday and she was my last hospice friend that I had to visit. I was expecting a 20 minute experience. Turns out, we talked for nearly an hour. She was in a very good mood.
So, you ask yourself – what can you possibly talk for an hour with a stranger? First, you will be surprised how people want to tell their story if you let them. In this case, I did not have to bother about that either. She is so devoid of short term memory that an hour of conversation is pretty much twelve re-runs of the same five minute conversation.
I must have answered her standard questions about my family, my daughters, where I work and so on a clear ten times or more. Similarly, she made sure I had heard about ten times about her grandchildren, their ages, her original place of birth and such other things.
To break the monotony, at times, I would press further on the topic of her son – since I knew she is very proud of her.
“Your son, Mrs Valerie, is a gem of a guy”. (names changed to protect piracy)
“He is. He is an absolutely great son. I am very proud of him.”
“As you should be. You should be also proud of yourself how you raised him.”
“Thank you. I had friends help me.”
I was not sure how to avoid broaching another sensitive topic – her husband. So, I just smiled and was wondering what to ask next when she dove into the topic herself.
“My husband left me after my son was born. I needed my friends to help me”.
“I am sorry to hear that. But I am sure glad your friends were around.” Trying to veer away from her husband, I continued “You chose some real great friends”.
She was not to be deterred. “My husband ran away with a floozie”.
Okay, I do not know how you would react, but I was stumped. At that point I was hoping that she will ask me again the same questions about me that I had already answered for a few times.
“Did you re-marry?”
“So, you raised the kids all by yourself?”
“My husband left us. I had no choice. But I had friends help me.”
“I have to say this, Mrs. Valerie. I am very proud of you and what you have done. I think I have a lot to learn”
“Why, thank you!”
“They say that a great mother raises a great son”
“That is not true”
“That is not true?”, I asked somewhat confused.
“No. A great mother raises not just a great son. A great mother raises a great father”.
It took me a minute or two to realize what she was trying to say. Then it dawned on me. Her pride in her son was not how he has treated her – but how he has treated his own kids. It is not the son in him but the father in him that she feels so proud of.
She immediately interrupted my thoughts with the same old “How many kids do you have?”, “Are you retired?”…
On the drive back from my last hospice visit of the year, I could not help think of a young lady with three kids suddenly deserted by her husband. Somehow, somewhere, she picked up her broken pieces of life and must have made a promise to herself. Although the newborn son she had was going to be bereft of a father figure in his life, she will work the hardest to make him the absolute greatest dad in the world. For sure, she would make him – in her own eyes – far superior to the man who hurt her.
Boy! Did she come thru on that promise!! “A great mother raises a great father”!!!