Name and photo used with permission.
“Have you been eating okay?”
“Have you been getting your sleep?”
“Are you in any pain?”
These are the standard questions I ask of any hospice client Buckley and I serve, and the questions usually come after some initial visiting – after Buckley has brought smiles and comfort. It becomes routine, and for Mary Lou, the questions always revealed that she had been eating fine, sleeping well, and living without pain.
To be sure, Buckley and I become attached to all of our clients; their stories bring perspective and warmth, sorrow and humor. But mostly, the attachment originates from the way our clients teach us how to live.
For Mary Lou, her heart sang in anyone who met her. It was difficult to understand her at first; she was limited in her ability to speak. But after a while, we knew her words. Her physical limitations didn’t allow her to fully express the love she had for Buckley and all those people who loved her, but we just moved Buckley in closer, so the back of her hand could feel the soft fur, and Buckley always obliged with some licks.
I am not opposed to Buckley’s licking. But sometimes, Buckley licks…and licks, and licks, and LICKS. Where I might normally encourage Buckley to manifest his love sans the slobber, Mary Lou delighted in the “washing” of her hands. I was gently admonished if I tried to stop him.
A few weeks ago, when I asked Mary the standard questions, she cried. She could tell something was different; something was changing. She knew what was happening. These moments are unforgettable in any circumstance with every client, but this moment was different somehow. All I could do was hold her hand and cry with her. I knew what the tears meant. I knew how much Mary Lou loved to live life, and she was not ready to say goodbye. Her body was controlling that destiny – now at a quickened pace.
The last week – when Mary Lou was confined to her bed – I witnessed humanity and compassion that could only come from those destined to a similar fate. Residents of the same facility – all of whom have a terminal illness themselves – made their way to Mary Lou’s room. They touched her face, held her hand, kissed her forehead…and sang to her. Comfort from those who will one day need the same comfort.
Today, Buckley and I will follow our normal routine, but not on our normal day. These days are never normal days. He will be brushed, his vest buckled, and I will talk to him. “You are needed,” I will say. “Today, we will meet Mary Lou’s family and friends.” His stare is a familiar one to me, of course. Unchanging, constant, devoted. Just as he provides a level of comfort to loved ones, he carries me.
By the way. Mary Lou was a painter. She painted this for me – with the handle of her paintbrush firmly placed between her teeth, confidently moving back and forth with precision and stillness, her heart singing.