They were in their early forties when Debbie was referred to Hospice for terminal breast cancer. She was an office worker and her husband, Gary, a factory worker. Gary was standing outside smoking a cigarette when I drove up the steep dirt road to their Jackson County home. It was my first visit, and as usual, I was a little nervous. I wondered, “Will they be open? Will we click or will the conversation be strained and awkward? Will I know what to say?
I introduced myself to Gary and he extended his hand and informed me that they didn’t expect Debbie to live through the day. The house was full of people and Gary needed some space and fresh air; so we talked outside for over an hour while sitting on the hood of his old pickup truck.
Gary told me about finding a letter in Debbie’s dresser drawer about two weeks earlier. She’d written it intending for Gary to read it after her death. She’d written down her feelings, thoughts, hopes, and even some advice to Gary about managing their finances. Gary told me, “As soon as I found the letter I took it to her and we talked about everything.” Gary exhorted, “Tell them to talk about it. Someone should write a book about it. If I had it to do over again I would have talked about it more. I would have taken care of everything. It’s a worry off your mind. Believe me, I tell people that if they don’t talk about things they’ll be looking back and wishing they had. All you want to do is what the person wants, but if you don’t talk about it you’ll never know if you’ve done what they wanted or not. We had one real good week after I found the letter when Debbie’s mind was clear, that we talked about things. That one week when we were talking was worth more than six months when we weren’t.”
I’ve heard so many family members and friends say to loved ones who were dying, “Don’t talk like that. You’re going to get better. Nobody knows for sure. I might die before you do…” We frequently try to protect the ones we love by consoling them or by avoiding painful discussions; but protection and avoidance can feel a lot like loneliness and isolation, leaving us “together all alone”. And sometimes I wonder who we are really trying to protect.
Well, I’m not planning on writing a book about it; but I am honoring Gary’s request and telling you to “talk about it”.
Loren Hardin is a Social Worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center – Hospice and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at email@example.com or at 740-356-2525