I was privileged to meet Sandy and her husband, George, at the hospital when her physician consulted hospice to talk with her about discontinuing dialysis. Sandy was only fifty-one years old; blind, had both legs amputated and had been on dialysis for renal failure; all complications of diabetes. Sandy understood the consequences of discontinuing dialysis, “I know that if I stop dialysis I could die in a few days or a few weeks. But I’m just tired of hurting.” She cried, “I just don’t want to live like this anymore. But I’m afraid I’m letting my family down.” George assured her, “You aren’t letting us down. It’s your decision.”
Sandy and George talked about enjoying their “country life” together, especially having horses. Sandy was so soft spoken and gentle that it surprised me when she told me she had her motorcycle license. I responded, “You took the motorcycle test and got your license!” Sandy replied, “Where do you think I got it; out of a Cracker Jack box?” She may have been tired but she was still feisty; and I fear I underestimated her feistiness.
Sandy opted to discontinue dialysis, enrolled in hospice, and returned to the nursing home where she had lived for the previous three months. One day, Sandy’s hospice aid, Sue, informed me, “Sandy was asking about you today. I think she’d like to see you.” When I arrived Sandy immediately started crying, “I’ve been worrying about a lot of things. Do you think God looks down on cremation?” As we discussed her question she concluded, “The soul is what counts; ashes to ashes. I just want to make sure my soul goes to heaven. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been in this nursing home. When I first came back here I went through a stubborn spell. I’m blind, so I decided that if they didn’t feed me I wouldn’t eat. I was just thinking about myself. Now I find myself thinking about other people besides myself. I pray for people. I pray for the whole world. There are people who have it worse than me. I’m really blessed. The nursing staff here is so good to me. I was crying the other night and one of the nurses just sat and held my hand. That meant so much to me. She told me to call her anytime and she would sit with me, even if she was at home when I called.”
Sandy also shared how close she’d gotten to Sue, her hospice aid,” She has grown to be a very close friend. She talks to me. She tells me about her family and I tell her about mine, and we pray for each other. She tells me jokes and gets me laughing.”
Sandy continued, “I know that God has me here for a reason. I’ve been thinking about getting involved in the activities here. I thought that if I could do something constructive and look back on the day and know that I said a kind word to someone or made someone smile, I would be able to sleep better.”
Sandy’s unselfish resolve reminds me of a stanza from the poem, “Count that Day Lost”, by George Elliott; “If you can sit down at the set of sun and count the acts that you have done. And counting, find one self-denying deed, one word, that eased the heart of him who heard; one glance most kind; that fell like sunshine where it went – Then you may count that day well spent.”
Sandy concluded, “I just hope I can die with dignity like the lady down the hall. You never heard her say a word. She never complained. I’ve prayed that God would give me the dignity to die like that.”
Sandy’s testimony was so inspiring that I asked her permission to publish it. She graciously and humbly agreed and asked, “If I’m not still around to see it, will you be mad at me?” I’d planned on visiting Sandy the day that I finished the final draft, but she died the night before. I’m persuaded that Sandy’s prayer was answered, that God gave her the dignity to die like the lady down the hall. After all, there was already sufficient irrefutable evidence.
“Do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525