Through the Passage

by Jeremy
Virginia, USA

On February 16th 2003, Virginia was being dumped on. Locally we had four or five inches of sleet, snow and ice, and were better off than much of the state, so I guess we were lucky. But things were messy enough that nobody was going anywhere if they didn’t have to.

At our bed and breakfast, my wife Diana and I said goodbye to the guests, cleaned rooms and sat down for a cup of tea. Then Christina, our next door neighbor, rang the bell. She came inside and collapsed in tears. George, her husband, was dying, and she and her 25-year-old daughter were trying to care for him. Today the visiting nurse couldn’t get through, and it was all too much for them.

Diana responded with compassion, while I followed from duty, certain I wouldn’t like what would face us there. We received lessons in caring for the dying. We bathed and moved George into a comfortable position, diapered him, changed his gown, put cream on his bedsores, and tried to make him as comfortable as possible.

I’m pretty sure George didn’t recognize us, but he clung to my hand as we bathed and moved him, a little metal crucifix between his hand and mine. He relaxed as we finished. We moved him up the bed onto pillows, putting pillows under his knees and feet to keep his sores from abrading on the sheets. Diana stayed a while, trying to get some liquids into him and giving his wife and daughter time off.

through-the-passage After dinner we went back next door to turn George over and make sure he was comfortable. Seeing the relief on Christina and Marita’s faces, as Diana took charge and gave us assured, competent directions, was a pleasure to behold. She put them on four-hour shifts, with clear instructions to sleep between, and make sure the other person slept her full shift. They now clearly felt comfortable with the prospect of caring for him, at least until morning.

We went back the next morning to continue caring for George. He passed away peacefully in his sleep about 3 p.m. His wife, son and daughter were at his side, as were we. The hospice nurse had finally arrived perhaps fifteen minutes before, so she was able to pronounce his death and attend to subsequent details.

There was a time in this country when most people died at home, in the bosoms of their family. It was the rule, not the exception. Fear or discomfort at seeing the dying and the dead was not the rule, but rather the exception.

Assisting my wife to help George and his family through his passing was not a horrible experience, but rather a rewarding one. Learning to treat a helpless dying person with compassion and dignity was an epiphany for me. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity. And I’m so proud of my wife Diana’s compassion, clarity and leadership.

Originally published as HeroicStories #593 on February 22, 2005

 

13 thoughts on “Through the Passage”

  1. I truly admire these people. I especially like the closing comments where it says that caring for the dying at home used to be the norm, rather than the exception. I have to wonder if people really know how to care these days like our grandparents did.

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    • Re: “I have to wonder…” – Having experienced this a couple of times in the last decade, I can say that yes – people do know how to care. That’s, in part, why HeroicStories exists: to remind us all of that fact.

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  2. I lost my wife of 30 years about 10 years ago. At home, in her own bed. Surrounded by all those that mattered.
    Nothing we faced was anything like these what good folks had to deal with, but I can attest to the immense value of “Just Being There”. Over many months of her illness, friends, coworkers and people from our church cooked for us, held our hands, talked, read and were “Just There”. Don’t underestimate the value of your face. You don’t need to know what to say, or what to do. Just help them to Keep in touch.
    I am deeply indebted to those who served us then, and I cherish th etimes I get to pay it back, or forward, anytime I can. It is a Joy, even in sadness.

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  3. Jeremy and Diana are truly remarkable neighbors! To be there for Marika and Christine while caring for their loved one George is truly a wonderful thing. It warms my heart to see this again and to know that there are people still out there that care for one another – no matter the circumstance!

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  4. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone left this world from a place filled with loving and caring and surrounded by people who care? Thank you for this story.

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  5. What a blessed story. To know that there are truly caring individuals still out there; It makes me feel like the world isn’t as far gone as we sometimes think.
    I love to read these heroic stories. It goes to show that you don’t have to be Superman to be a Super Hero.

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  6. “You don’t have to be Superman to be a Super Hero.” — a good second line, after “Co-conspirator . . . ” if you want a two-line slogan!

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  7. yes ; I love the story and yes I love when people love on one another and I do appreciate the piece of metal that this dear man was holding as I know very well Jesus is my strength and my everything and I am not ashamed to say it because He was not ashamed of me on Calvary. may we all be blessed when our last day come
    as it will come and may we have the same grace to give to each other as we depart I pray in the precious name of Jesus Christ. Danielle with love.

    Reply

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