What does a parking lot tell you about a place? Yeah, yeah I get it, if it’s a parking lot for a restaurant and its full, it tells you people like it. The food is probably good and you might want to “jump on it” and get a reservation. Alternatively, you are at the mall near the holidays, the parking lot is packed you might say “OMG” what a zoo, everyone is out shopping! I can’t go in there. Both are full but your response is different. You follow me? Stay with me here...
I want you to compare these two parking lots. Think to yourself, where are these parking lots and what is different about them in comparison. Okay?
Think on this while I tell you a story. We’ll get around to the point shortly.
I am Hospice Volunteer. So is my dog, my beautiful standard Poodle Effie.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hospice it is a way of taking care of terminally ill patients and their families in their last six months of life. It is generally palliative care for people who need medical measures to keep them comfortable while they die.
Dame Cicely Saunders, started the modern Hospice movement in St. Christopher’s Hospice in London in 1967. Forms of Hospice have been around since 1050, a very long time. Medieval times as a matter of fact.
Cicely said and I quote:
“You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also LIVE until you die.”
That’s what we do as hospice volunteers. We visit the terminally ill, we sit with them, we read to them and we share space/presence with them. Sometimes we may be with them in their final sacred hours. We also support their families. There are many amazing stories about the dying process but that is a blog for another day.
It works like this: I am asked to accept an assignment which I generally do. I either go to a facility like an inpatient facility, a nursing home or I could go to someone’s actual home. 90% of hospice services are performed in the person’s home. I am on a team, with a Doctor, a nurse, a CNA, a social worker and me, the volunteer. I personally go to nursing homes and to an inpatient facility. When I go to the inpatient facility Effie goes with me and we visit patients who are not “Actively dying”.
The process is; I call ahead and say Effie’s coming today and I ask how many are in the house? (my facility is 12 beds) They may say some version of this; we have a full house and five are active. There are seven you can visit. That means five are actively dying and seven have not started the active dying process. Translated, they are in the six-month window of being eligible for Hospice care. The patients at an inpatient facility may be people who have been in accidents, dying of a disease, had a stroke or in their final days. They need a facility in which to die under palliative care.
The rest of my visits are at Nursing homes. Currently, I visit two nursing homes. One is part of a three tiered community that offers independent living, assisted living and nursing care. My father lives in such a place. Bethany Village in Mechanicsburg and he thrives in this environment. As he ages, (he is 87) he will have all levels of care available to him. Why? Because he paid into the system and by planning his old age well he can afford it.
The other assisted living/nursing facility I visit started in the 1800’s in Atlanta as a Pauper’s home. It is a facility for the indigent of Atlanta. It is a home for the poor. For people that have no one to care for them, no money and no place to go. It is a non-profit charity. This facility has 37 beds.
The question becomes what do you do with the elder in your family if you have no money? Or a person incapable of caring for themselves? Maybe they are incontinent, have dementia, are mentally ill and are beyond the family’s capacity to handle? I venture to say everyone reading this has adequate means to provide for a family member. The big BUT is, many people do not. It is the few that can, the many who cannot. What do they do? Where do they go? Who cares for them?
Well, if they don’t have Medicaid they may end up on the street, or in a shelter or in the ER for their final hours.
My first experience with Hospice was when my best friend’s mother went in for testing. She went in for a standard test, had a massive stroke following the test and decisions needed to be made. She was terminal. The decision was made to take her to hospice. It took her eight days to die. No nutrition no hydration according to her living will. It was a beautiful inpatient facility, the Ritz of Hospice. The point is, it was a life giving experience to share the dying process with someone. It was life giving to share the experience with with my best friend and her mother as she transitioned. We cried, we drank coffee and we celebrated the life of our loved one.
I knew then and there I wanted to be a volunteer at Hospice. It was just a matter of time before my schedule allowed for it. Effie laid on my friend's mother's bed. She was one year old at the time. I knew she too would be a hospice dog volunteer.
Let’s go back to the parking lots. It’s time. These two parking lots haunted me for weeks.
The first parking lot is the high end three-tied facility for those who can afford it. Notice all the cars, the visitors, the landscaping. You pull in to see elders fishing, walking and driving golf carts. The nursing facility is very nice indeed. True, the patients are in rooms, and all are ill but they are well cared for with adequate staff. Kudos to those people for planning for their future. I intend to be one of them.
The second parking lot is the Pauper’s house. The assisted living/nursing facility for the indigent, the poor. The non-profit facility. There are no cars in this lot with the exception of two. Mine, and one of the nurses who owns a car. The other staff take the bus. The bus stop is on the facility. Let me say it again, there are no cars. There are no visitors.
When I first pulled in I thought is this the right place? Is the facility closed? And then I realized there just aren’t any cars. There just aren’t any visitors. How does that happen? How do we let that happen to our fellow human beings? How do we address this?
At the same time how appropriate. That someone like me needed to be reminded that the city I live in; or the city, town or community you live in, contains people without means. People who have nowhere to go. Who haven’t had the same opportunities that were available to me. It was an “in my face reminder” that not everyone is as fortunate as I am. It doesn’t mean I don’t have problems. It doesn’t mean I haven’t suffered. It simply means they have a need for shelter, food, care and love-just as I do. Yet they don’t have the same resources. At the end of the day, I am glad to be there. I am glad my car is in the parking lot. I am glad I have two legs to walk to the door, an arm to open the door and the willingness to go inside and visit.
We are all people in the world. Some more fortunate than others. There is a time in our lives to retreat into our families and ourselves. Circle the wagons so to speak. And then there is a time to reach out. I suggest the second half of life is time to reach out. However that translates to your skill set.
In closing Jeannette Walls wrote a booked titled, “The Glass Castle”. We read it in my book club years ago.
It starts like this. “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw my mother rooting through a dumpster”.
Needless to say the story goes on and she has the cab take her back to her Park Avenue apartment where she tried to calm herself. Now her parents did in fact choose the life of the homeless more or less. You can get the book to find out what happens.
These opening lines changed me. Could you imagine being a successful wealthy person and see your parent looking for food in a dumpster? Talk about an “oh my” moment.
My point is this: how many times do we go about our lives and see something that is abhorrent to us? A beggar at an intersection, a dirty, nasty, alcoholic person or the mentally ill and we just can’t handle it. We don’t like it and we don’t want to see it. Not on our streets, not on our way home from work. We don’t want to be reminded of the other side of the tracks, the darker side of life. We like our entitlement, our comfy lives, our good jobs, our nice clothes our educated selves. I know I do.
I also know sometimes we look the other way. Because it is so darn easy not to look. May I suggest to you that you should look? And then look again. See how it feels. Take it in and turn it around inside.
And then take whatever your gift or skill set may be and look around some more…until you find someone to give it to.
Don’t let the parking lots be empty. “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were built for. “
-John A. Shedd
Until next time.