This is part four of a series about Lorene who was ninety-two when she enrolled in our hospice program. Lorene preferred the simple life, declaring, “I never aspired to a luxurious life. I was always a plant person and I loved vases, pitchers and baskets. I bought almost every basket I saw. I like things that are colorful, things that delight the eye. And do you know what else delights my eye? Seeing a man out with his wife and being able to tell by the way he treats her, by the way he looks at her, that she is the most important person in the world to him. Charlie was my pastor, Sunday school teacher and handyman. Whenever you saw Charlie and Carolyn out together you could tell that Charlie adored Carolyn, that she was the love of his life. Now that delights my eye.”
Lorene and her husband, Charles, lived a simple sedentary farm life, but Lorene made sure I knew she’d been a few places and seen a few things. She declared, “You may not know it but I’m a world traveler.” Lorene raised her eyebrows, tilted her head downward, looked over the top rim of her eyeglasses, smiled and explained, “Charles and I lived in North Africa for twenty-five months while he was in the Air Force. We were there from 1955 until 1957. And I had to fly there all by myself; from Dayton, to New York, to Nova Scotia, to Europe, to the Azores and then to Tripoli. Not bad for a little Appalachian girl.
“Charles could fix and build anything. He was really good with his hands. But of all the things that Charles could have done in the service he was a cop. Charles was part of the canine unit and his dog’s name was Aaron. It was one of those dogs that were trained in Germany. Charles’ job was to guard a bomb depot. His dog caught a fellow climbing over the wall one night and Charles got a three day pass for doing what they were there to do. We liked it there. I always liked a pretty view and we were on the Mediterranean. There was a radio station there that would broadcast ‘coming to you from the blue, blue Mediterranean.’”
A little over a year ago Lorene vacated her home on the farm and was admitted to “The Manor”. A few days after her move, while sitting up in her hospital bed, Lorene nodded towards the opposing bare wall and said, “Now, that’s my view.” The stream of life, of “time and chance” (Ecclesiastes 9:11), of circumstance, had carried Lorene a long way from the “blue blue Mediterranean” and from the view on her farmhouse porch.
But over the past year I’ve watched that barren sterile nursing home room be transformed into Lorene’s personal space. The bed is always strewn with word search books and magazines. Small containers are stacked all around. Lorene confessed, “I’ve never seen a container I didn’t like.” Lorene’s son Randy decorates the room for the holidays. A cardboard skeleton that Lorene named “Leroy McGee”, hung on the door handle for months. Her faithful friend and former neighbor Bob and his wife, Kim, routinely deliver and arrange fresh flowers and “bring treats”. There’s now a book shelf against the wall which houses Lorene’s “library”. There are stashes of Lorene’s favorite snacks everywhere. There is a calendar on the wall with colorful floral photographs as well as family photographs. And most importantly there is what Lorene’s daughter, Carol, has termed, “the cast of characters” in her mother’s life who visit faithfully, who have never left Lorene’s side.
Lorene’s situation reminds me of Thurman, another hospice patient, who left his home and moved into a nursing home. Shortly after his move I visited Thurman and I was amazed by the number of staff who kept stopping by his room just to say hi and chat. His room seemed like the unofficial staff lounge. When we were alone, I commented to Thurman about how well he seemed to be doing and he replied, “You know I’ve learned that people will be nice to you if you are nice to them; and when you are interested in others they will be interested in you. If we don’t make it the best we can, we may as well give up.”
Several years ago, Lorene’s daughter, Carol, and I were fellow hospice social workers and I’ve never forgotten something Carol shared with me; “You know how people always say ‘I hope things work out the best for you’? I read something the other day that I really liked; it said, ‘Things work out best for those who make the best out of how things work out.’” What a paradigm shifter!
I’ve observed that with each progressive stage or season of life come inescapable and irreversible changes which present us with the perennial question, “What else can I do?” It is during these times of changing weather that we are challenged with making the best out of how things work out. It’s not quick or easy but I believe it’s possible. And if Lorene and Thurman can do it, maybe we can too. And If God can help them through it maybe He can help us too. And what do you say; let’s stand ready to become one of the “cast of characters” in the lives of others who are struggling to make the best out of how things have worked out; for we cannot always pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.