It takes someone with a golden heart and an iron will to work at Hospice. My friend, Linda, is one of those people.
Hospice workers try to guard their emotions so they don’t burn out and can help the next person, the next day. Some people still get through the protective wall though and profoundly touch the heart.
For Linda, one such person was an older lady who was quite lucid at the time, but only had a couple of months to live. Every day she went to see her. They would sit and visit, and Linda did all the things she could to help care for her new, dying friend.
No one should feel alone when they die, and the lady’s family was scattered across the country and not able to be with her. Linda was, however, and she began preparing her for the final goodbye.
Every day when Linda arrived, the lady’s eyes would light up, and soon, she accepted her as her own. She would tell Linda that she loved her, and even began calling her “Baby Girl”.
It was unusual, but it didn’t bother Linda a bit. Dying people have remarkable similarities physically, emotionally and spiritually in the dying process. On the other hand, sometimes a dying person can respond in a dramatically, unpredictable fashion, so whatever worked for the lady, worked for Linda. Besides, it was endearing to be called Baby Girl.
Over the coming days she had good days, and increasingly, bad days. On the good days, she was talkative and carried on about her life, memories and events of years gone by. Every day she would insist on sitting up so she could comb and braid Linda’s hair. It was a kind expression of gratitude to someone who was once a stranger, but was now walking with her in the valley of the shadow of death.
On the bad days, she became sullen, quiet, pensive. On one of the bad days, she didn’t call Linda by her nickname, Baby Girl, nor did she tell her that she loved her.
Linda asked if she still loved her.
She simply said, “Some days I do, and some days I don’t.”
It was perplexing, honestly, for the whole experience with this lady had been very different than with other people who Linda had helped as they inched down death’s pathway.
As time got closer to the end, the lady’s son from California came to Texas to see his mother. When he met Linda, she began to tell him about her day to day condition, mental state, even that she called her Baby Girl, and how she would say she loved her.
The middle-aged man just stared with a penetrating look at Linda as she talked and updated him. His expression was, at best, disconcerting. Linda felt she had offended him, or maybe overstepped her boundaries. She finished and was politely excusing herself from the conversation when he stopped her.
“You don’t understand”, he told her. “You look EXACTLY like my sister! My mother thinks YOU are her daughter!”
From that day on, Linda changed how she did things. With the family’s support, she willingly traded hats and took on the identity of the woman’s adult daughter. For that, the lady’s children were grateful. They felt in a way that through Linda, they were there with their mother, even when they weren’t.
In the dying lady’s mind, she was absolutely being cared for by her own flesh and blood daughter. She was no longer the compassionate volunteer who gave of her money, time and heart to walk with a dying stranger. She was someone else. She was family. She was Baby Girl.
She went from coaching on the sidelines, to walking step by step, hand in hand, with her down life’s final path.
In her last weeks, Linda spent a great deal of time with her. She spoke to her not as a volunteer, but as a daughter. Indeed, they were genuinely linked together, but not by blood. They were linked through compassion, kindness and love, and in the journey, that’s far stronger than mere blood anyway.
Hospice doesn’t last forever though. There is an end. There’s always an end.
When the shallow, irregular breaths gave way to the raspy rattle of the lungs. When the kidneys failed and the fingers cooled. When her pale face became bluish gray…she breathed her last. In those in between seconds, she quietly crossed the river from this life to the next.
When she died, the elderly lady was surrounded by her blood relatives, including her blood daughter. On the other side of the room, Baby Girl was there too, with tears streaming down her face as she grieved and mourned the loss of another mother.
Kindness, compassion and love take on many faces. There’s oodles of ways to express it, myriads of ways to live it. Yet it has to be expressed, it needs to be lived, as free as a butterfly. Otherwise, it is simply a nice thought, a warm feeling, a quiet idea that remains but a caterpillar in a cocoon of good intentions.
We never know when our last breath will be. Tomorrow may not come, but today is here. Right now is here, and it’s a gift! Make it count, and maybe, just maybe, be a Baby Girl to someone else!