Heavy Thoughts

Last week we had some very intense visits at West Pines as well as our regular rotation at hospital and hospice. It’s taken a few days to try to sort through the feelings those visits left and I’m not sure they can be adequately conveyed even after much reflection.

Whenever we visit hospice I already know each patient is on the last journey of their lives. Yes, it’s sad when anyone passes even those that are elderly and have led a long and hopefully fruitful life. There have been a few young patients that touch my heart. How could this happen? A young person, who life hadn’t filled all its promise, cut short. And yet, intellectually I know it happens; it’s all part of life. I know intellectually it’s not fair. It’s not comforting to see such inequity, but know the important part is not how long of a life, but how amazing it was, right?

Indeed, I was not at all prepared for Thursday’s visits. When I checked with the nurses down the first corridor, they said to be sure to visit with the lady in 220 as she was sitting in her recliner. As soon as I knocked on the partially opened door, a woman’s voice trilled for us to come in. Once inside, an extremely over-sized, round-faced woman greeted us with “ooh, a doggie!” as my “Good morning” greeting barely left my lips. This woman with her pale face and rosy checks reached out to run her fingers through Sam’s hair. It took us a couple of moments to arrange to get into the corner, moving her bed tray and IV pole out of the way.

Whenever I visit hospice, I contemplate about the lives of the patients we see. What were they like, did they grow up on a farm or were they native to the city? Most of the older patients tend to have grown up in rural settings and when conscious, regale me with stories of hard work and strong morals, most often with stories sprinkled with tales of tails…dogs, cats, farm animals…I enjoy them all. With the woman we were visiting, it was hard to tell what kind of life she’d led…it seemed she was well in the advanced stages of confusion and dementia in addition to her medical condition. Still we are always delighted when a patient is awake as most are not and I know Sam’s visits brighten their hearts. With patients suffering from dementia, I let Sam take over and allow them ramble on to him and smile a lot, not saying much. What else can you do when comprehension is fleeting? After a few minutes we could tell she was tiring, and thus bid our farewell and moved on to the next corridor.

To get an understanding of what the layout of hospice looks like, think of a building built like a wagon wheel with the spokes being the corridors. The center area houses the main nurses stations and each ‘spoke’ has a small private room with comfortable seating, a mini-nurse’s station near the pharmaceutical cabinet, a restroom and shower area, a small sitting area at the end of each hallway with chairs and end tables that families can use to regroup, make phone calls, etc. with access to a private outside garden. Whenever we move to a new hallway, I access what we might encounter. Often there are groups of visitors mingling about and a nurse or two filling out charts, preparing medications, etc. This particular hallway had a small little boy at the end of the hallway, crawling around on the chairs. He was alone so I figured his family was in one of the rooms nearby. Surprisingly, there were 4 nurses gathered at the mini-station, an unusually large group, chatting and entering data. When I asked them for details about the floor, two of them said they were fairly full, but we should definitely visit with Meike who loved nature and had just asked to be moved outside to the garden. “Of course,” I said. “We’re happy to visit with her.” Then one of them said, “I’ll bet Adler would love to meet Sam!” ‘Adler’ turned out to be the young boy at the end of the hall. She called him over. The shy little boy let his small fingers twirl through Sam’s ears. The nurse asked Adler if he liked Sam and he shuffled from one foot to the other and demurred, “Sure.” His mind seemed elsewhere, but then again I may have been projecting. He talked for a few moments and I learned he was 9 years old. ‘Meike’ was his mom. Gulp. I wasn’t prepared for that detail. After he walked back to the end of the corridor, we made our way out to the garden to visit with his mom. It was a lovely day, despite being cloudy with a hint of welcome rain. After many days of warm temps, the cooler day with its slight breeze felt good. Meike’s back faced us as we quietly moved toward her.

The enclosed garden area was quiet and beautifully landscaped with flowers around a large  gazebo with numerous chairs. It’s a peaceful area and a lovely spot for patients or their visitors to commune with nature for a few moments, away from beeping machines and a harsh medical setting. I’m sure it has comforted many during those final visits with loved ones. As I moved toward Meike, I noticed her eyes were closed as if she were contemplating her remaining time and soaking up the nature around her. I watched her for a few moments and my thoughts immediately moved from her to her young son. It was hard to tell her age as her head was buried deep within the covers but I couldn’t let go of the fact this was all wrong, young mother’s weren’t supposed to leave their small children to a world that could easily swallow them whole. Who would protect young Adler? Who would teach him how to ride a bike, throw a ball, how to solve math problems, and more importantly how to kindly treat people? You know, all those life lessons necessary to living in a meaningful way. My imagination got carried away and my troubled energy clearly rubbed off onto Sam. He leaned against my leg waiting for a petting and startling me into returning to the present moment. We stood there for a few more seconds watching Meike breathe and then we quietly left the garden making our way out of the building. I couldn’t even begin to work the last corridor but as we were leaving, a couple of women on their way to the kitchen stopped to ogle over Sam. They sincerely thanked us for coming. I could only half-heartedly smile and let them chat Sam up marveling at his calmness. While not on the verge of tears, my heart was heavy and sad and truthfully, I had no words in me. I kept asking myself why this little boy and his mother had made such an impact on my heart and mind. Clearly we’ve encountered others close to death’s door but none had affected us as much as these two. Energy was the only explanation I could figure. But it ended up being the cosmos’ way of saying, “But wait…there’s more…”

As we left the parking lot for home, I couldn’t surrender my shaken core. When I got home, in a moment of hopeful escape, I went to Facebook. Surely there’d be something to distract my heavy heart. And right there, first post on my wall, was the photo of a dear acquaintance dressed in a hospital gown with an IV pole next to him, ever so thin and pale, nearly bald, and standing next to his partner reciting wedding vows. I hadn’t seen Howard in a few months but knew his treatment for melanoma was taking its toll, yet had no idea of the degree of seriousness. Ugh, my heart heaved…another gentle soul, leaving too soon. Despite months and months of surgeries, chemo, experimental treatment, Howard’s condition had not changed and as he faced the end of the road, he had decided to marry his love and then checked into hospice for the final days. The end was near and I didn’t need his partner’s words to tell me that. I could see it in the expression on Howard’s face. As long as I’ve known him, his wicked, rapier wit and acerbic humor camouflaged the sadness I now saw on his face. He was tired, tired of fighting an enemy who was stealing his very essence and yet I knew it would be this man who would bring together hundreds of friends and acquaintances mourning the loss of a bright, funny man we would all miss very soon. And as I processed this additional cross to bear, my thoughts turned back to little Adler, all alone at the end of a hospice corridor, his mom alone in a quiet garden. I could only hope they had as extensive and supportive network as Howard did. And then I wept with tears flowing down my checks, burning my eyes and being dried by Sam’s kisses.

Maybe it was just a confluence of sadness after intense visits with pet therapy and the news about Howard simply made it all too raw for me. But what this jumble of emotions tells me, that just like my Sam experiences when he works to negate sadness and strife, our hearts become weighted with energy of a surrounding world where bad things happen to good people, and where it’s important to make sure to spend time trying to make a difference in the lives of those whose paths cross ours. I pray we do justice…for the lady in Room 220 and the Adler’s of the world by sharing a few moments with a goofball sweet dog whose tail can’t seem to stop wagging when he ministers to them.

We’ll be taking this week off to spend as much time as possible hugging my son extra tightly as he visits for a few days and to share the deep connection our entire family has when we all get together for these reunions. There probably won’t be posts the rest of this week, but I will do my best to try to keep up with what’s going on with you. What this past week has shown me if anything, is the best way to feel alive and minimize pain is to focus on others and share the beauty of their lives, their stories. For us around the Ranch, this will involve sharing smiles and telling funny stories of past get-togethers. Our family will talk, laugh, and share more than a few beers with memories that have provided us meaning and purpose. I hope little Adler has someone equally as special to hold him and be a true compass as soon as his mom leaves this mortal world.

Post script.  Howard passed away Saturday evening. He was 50 years old. The FB page announcing his passing displayed this image which is a good reflection of his outlook. He was all about the best parts of life. Comedy, Improv, Music (oh sooo much music), Film, Friends, Blogs, Animals and endless amounts of kindness, grace and love. He will be sorely missed by so many. In memory of Howard and so many others like him, make someone laugh today. #f*ckcancer

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

73 thoughts on “Heavy Thoughts

  1. I am softly weeping at my desk.(Please don’t let my boss come out!) This was so beautifully written with so much emotion. I felt like I was actually there with you.

    I will send thoughts to the Universe for Adler, that he has someone whose love will wrap around him like a blanket, and give him everything he needs to navigate the murky waters we call life.

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. May his light shine brightly in the other world.


    1. Many thanks, Jodi. I’ll make sure the boss is distracted. With all of Blogville’s many thoughts of comfort, I hope for the best for little Adler. There was a nice memorial service for Howard last Friday that Howard would have loved. Loads of laughter…with lots of HBO words. 🤣

  2. Everything in this post was so bitter sweet. The rawness and unapologetic way of the world can be so discouraging. I agree…the most one can do is try and add as much beauty as possible. You and Sam spread so much love in moments when perhaps that love and hope is fleeting<3 I'm so sorry for your loss…i hope that you've taken the week for self-care and reflection. xOx

  3. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. Sometimes these things hit us harder than others, especially when they pile on top of each other like that. I hope your time with family is helping to get you into a better place. 🙂

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. You do unbelievably good work with the hospice and I’ll bet that no one really imagines the toll that it can take on you. Thank you for bringing a fleeting moment of joy to everyone there.

    1. Many thanks for the kind words of comfort. There will be a massive event celebrating Howard’s life this evening with a gazillion people sharing wonderful stories of this funny sweet man. ❤︎

  5. Hi Monika,
    What a tough time you’re having there. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, Howard, who is a young 50 year old. Naturally, I relate closely to young Adler and his mother. You;’ve been following my blog for a long time and that’s been our story, although thank goodness I responded to treatment at last. I am becoming more aware that it’s not so usual for a child to lose a parent. That’s awful for the family but it also means that it’s not as unlikely as I thought. In my family, my grandparents were elderly when they passed away two grandparents were into their 90s, another 83 and the other 72. Both my parents are in their early 70s. I just expected to reach my 80s…and I haven’t given up yet either!!
    I came across a brilliant book, which I’m currently reading. Perhaps, you’ve already read it, but I know you’d love it: https://optionb.org/book
    Here’s a review and you’ll find a link through to her Facebook post, which is well worth reading:
    BTW I really appreciate how you and Sam venture beyond your comfort zones to lighten the load of people who can be in a very hard place, like Adler and his Mom. It clearly weighs heavily on you. Yet, you keep going back and spreading love and joy. That’s incredible!
    Love & blessings,
    PS Notice Elsa didn’t get an invite!

  6. When I saw the title of this post, I knew that I needed to wait for a quiet moment to read it. Tears are streaming down my cheeks. There are so many things about life that we just don’t understand. But we can understand love. The love that surrounded your friend Howard and, I have no doubt, now comforts his partner. The love that Meike has for Adler. Hopefully he will be surrounded by people who will love him and who will share stories about his mother so that his love for her can grow throughout his years despite the fact that she had to leave him far too soon. The love that I know you and your son are sharing during his visit. And the selfless love that you and Sam bring to so many people that you don’t even know, helping to ease their pain and sorrow when they face the toughest tests that life has to give. Love has a way of overcoming all the things that we just cannot understand about this life. <3

  7. Wow…I don’t even have words to describe how I’m feeling right now…It is truly amazing what you and Sam do…I hope you have a wonderful time with your family this week. Mia sends you loves of slobbery kisses and wiggly body wags. 🙂

  8. Oh my goodness… I can see why your heart is heavy. You are an amazing person, sharing sweet Sam with people who need him, even though it can shake you to your core. I’ve never had a dog who had the right disposition for that kind of therapy work… but I feel sure that I couldn’t be as strong as you are. You are amazing.

    I’m so sorry about Howard. A childhood friend of mine just died of cancer. He was about the same age as Howard. My mom was even younger when cancer took her. Cancer sucks… but all that we who are left behind can do is live each day that we’re given to the fullest. And try to help cancer research in any way that we can.

    Sending lots of love and hugs to you.

    1. Thanks ever so for the kind words. Sam really does all the work, I just drive him. This confluence of all this horrible stuff just really hit me. Thank goodness Sam has been my rock, especially after Howard passed. I’m convinced he knows I need his kind of therapy. And yes, you are so right…cancer does suck. Big time.

  9. You did a great job conveying your emotions….made me tear up. I know that the hospice patients, and others you visit, are so glad that you come and let them have a little Sam time to give them a moment of normalcy. My heart breaks for little Adler and for Howard’s friends and family. I agree with your sentiments about cancer. Enjoy your week with family! Give Sam a hug from me and Tippy for all of his wonderful work helping others.

  10. Hospice work is hard work because it puts us very close to our own mortality and at the same time magnifies the distance between our mortality and that of the person being visited. And our thankfulness for that distance causes another set of emotions. You are doing good work, important work.

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  11. I have been wondering about the same sort of things. Life is unfair and mysterious and sad. It is a reminder to be grateful for what we have and for our loved ones.

  12. Hi MoniKa and Sam. It sounds like you need your family visit more than usual and I hope you all enjoy each other. I have been fortunate to have had a family reunion with my sister and brother and all our families, and soon to have a reunion with a large group of cousins from out of town whom I usually see only at funerals–so glad to have these family times.​

    Love and happy thoughts to you. Nancy Fischer

  13. Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That, imho, will the lasting legacy of your Spoo visits to the sick and injured. The way you guys made them feel. Have fun w/ the fam. F*ckcancer.

  14. There are no words to express how much I admire you for visiting hospice patients. Death is never fair and cancer is beyond cruel. As you know, my 28 year-old niece is currently battling colon cancer. Her prognosis is really good but chemo is taking its toll on her. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and for the lifetime of pain that little Adler will endure. God bless you and Sam.

    1. Many thanks, M.K. I greatly appreciate your kind words. I’ve thought of your niece since your post about her condition and hope for the best for her and your whole family. Hugs and tail wags.

  15. Beautiful post and I wish I had the proper words. I don’t have the words that adequately convey my feelings about all you have experienced this past week. Sadly, I know about Hospice first hand (from my father-in-law who had Altzheimers), I volunteered in the Memory Unit on Fridays. On top of all of that the loss of your friend, I am sooooooo deeply sorry. Sending you (((hugs))) and love.

    1. Many thanks, Caren. Words at times like this are often elusive, but yours hit every note on key. Many thanks for them and your friendship. We are truly blessed for friends like you.❤︎

  16. thank you for sharing your heavy heart with us so we could be there for you. there is just something so special about hugging a dog that helps our heart and refreshes our spirit.
    so glad your much needed family reunion is this week.
    it makes me happy to know you’ll be surrounded by family this week making new memories. i can just imagine Sam right in the thick of it soaking up all that joy and returning it tenfold with his tail wagging like a lamb’s.
    as for hugs..emails, phone calls, are great but there is nothing like actualy getting to touch those we care about.
    please give Sam a nose smooch from me.
    looking forward to hearing all about the reunion.
    P.S. remember..there are no calories in comfort food.
    seriously. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the kind and comforting words. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the kindness our blogging friends have extended in their comments. You guys are amazing. From the bottom of my heart, I truly appreciate you❣️

  17. Every time I read about a beloved anipal or peep cross the bridge, I have to remind myself that I couldn’t have saved them. Hell, I can’t even save myself.

  18. So beautiful Monika! Whenever I sit with dying patients they are already in the process of dying and mostly unconscious. I hold their hands, read to them, ask them questions and I always wonder about their lives, the people they loved and those who loved them in return. Meeting your hospice patients while still alive and with some time ahead of them must be much harder. But what a gift you and Sam provide!

    1. Many thanks, Claudia. When you do this kind of work, you can’t help but wonder about the lives these folks led, their stories, etc. Most hospice patients are not conscious but there is definitely impact upon those visitors with them and you can help feel empathy. Sam has been even more attentive to me these past few days probably sensing my sadness. He’s such a gift and I’m so fortunate. ❤︎

  19. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing and thanks to you and Sam for all that you do to bring happiness and comfort to those who need it so much. Have a wonderful visit with your family!

  20. I can only imagine the burden and sadness you and Sam selflessly take when doing your therapy volunteer work. it may sound a bit trite, but I am sincere in saying that it is people like you who make the world a better place and remind me that there is always hope and that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train. As Annie said, “the sun will come out tomorrow”, and indeed it does. Condolences for your friend Howard and yes indeed – F*CK Cancer! Enjoy time with family, you deserve that and the down time, the love, and laughs that go along with it.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Michael. Normally it doesn’t affect me so strongly and yet, there was something in this little boy’s face that really hit me. Let’s pray the sun comes out for all those suffering emotional losses.

  21. Life is short,just a fleeting whisper in the wind and we have to make the most of that life,whether it is helping people with our pets as you do or just making the most of our time with those that we love and care about,enjoy your time with your son,xx Rachel and Speedy

  22. You and Sam are doing an important job that not everyone, or every dog, can do. When my closest friend was visiting from PA, I invited her to tag along while Lexi and I did our hour of therapy visits at the children’s hospital. She said she wouldn’t be able to take the heartbreak. That was when I first realized this.
    I had one experience that touched me the way you described, and I still think about that little girl who died after years of fighting the horrid C. We had seen her almost every month for close to 8 years. Thank you for such an eloquent and heart rending account. And take care of yourselves, please.

    1. Thank you, Amy. You’re right, pet therapy is not or everyone. With each visit I grow more impressed with Sam’s comforting demeanor. I can’t imagine visiting a child suffering from cancer for 8 years. One the one hand, hospice makes it easier to not build those kinds of deep ties, yet with this little boy, I know what’s in his future and it saddened me completely.

  23. Hi Monika – While I have never worked in an environment like you and Sam get into, I did spend just over two years in a Crisis Intervention Unit in a Toronto Hospital and, with the best will and desire in the world, those kinds of environments take their toll. Take as much time as you need to “regroup the troops’! As somebody once made it quite clear to me “You are doing a wonderful job here, and it is truly appreciated, but you cannot help anybody unless you stay healthy yourself.” Such a basic truth.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Colin, there are some visits that are harder than others. This one really impacted me. Luckily Sam is by my side providing me with loads of tender attention.

  24. I’m so sorry for your loss and for such a difficult week for you. It sounds as though the work that you and Sam do in visiting the hospice makes all the difference in the world to lives at a time that it matters the very most. I love that his presence brings out so many stories and memories which are so important and so lovely for the teller to share and for you to hear. Thinking of you x

  25. I am sorry for the loss of your dear friend, Howard. He must have been a wonderful man. Your post was beautifully written, and held nothing back. I keep thinking of Adler and his mom. My wife is in the medical profession, and has worked in hospice. From this, I know that what you do with Sam makes a difference – even if it’s just a moment of joy or comfort – it means something. Give your son a hug for me. I’ll be to giving my two sons big ones. My eyes are a little misty now, but sometimes that’s a good thing, because it means we can still feel and care for others.Thank you, and best wishes.

  26. The work you and Sam do soothes the hearts and souls of so many people! Glad you’re taking time to care for yours and recharge your batteries ❤️

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