“Please Remember Hospice,” by Michael King

A New Visions Commentary paper published July 2000 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web
http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.

The call came the morning of Easter Sunday as I was working on my "award winning" cheese grits.

"Mike." It was my father. He is usually understated. If the world was coming to an end, his tone would be about the same as asking me to pass the butter knife, but this time his voice gave me reason to pause. "How soon can you and your sister get up here?"

My grandmother had been sick for quite a while. Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer had taken a toll over the last few years. My father was afraid there wasn’t much time left. He said what remained of her health was declining significantly.

I told him we could be there by Tuesday. My sister, who lives across town from me, had things to clean up at work. So did I – especially since we needed to clear a couple of weeks to handle everything and just be there for my father and family.

The time flew by as we drove from Atlanta to Gary, Indiana. When we arrived, my grandmother lay in her room in a hospital bed provided by the Visiting Nurse Hospice. She looked tiny in the large bed. My aunt – her daughter – sat in a chair next to her, talking softly as sweet music from a tape deck underneath the bed wafted through the room.

"Look, Mother – Mike and Courtney are here," she told my grandmother, smiling all along.

Behind my grandmother’s glazed eyes flashed a flicker of recognition as she focused on the two of us. We both leaned over to kiss her, and talked to her as we did so. She made very little noise, but it was enough for the two of us to know that she knew we were there.

Wednesday evening, my father, sister, brother and I sat together in the basement at my parents’ house. The four of us read and offered changes to the obituary that the others had worked on.

Overnight, Natalie Harridy King, lifemate and wife to her husband of more than 63 years; mother to three of her own and three others who became the lifemates of her children; grandmother of five, plus one other who joined with her grandson; great-grandmother of two; citizen, educator and friend who touched the lives of so many, stepped quietly away from this earth while at home, in her own room, with her family near.

The following morning, the phone at my parents’ house rang at about 6:30. Dad came down the stairs. "I think she’s gone," he said.

We went over to my grandparents’ house. We did not speed. The Hospice people told us death is not an emergency. My grandmother lay peacefully in her room, her eyes partially open but cold and still in death. I leaned over and, with a light kiss, said, "Goodbye, Geggie."

A nurse, a minister and a social worker – call her a grief counselor – from the Visiting Nurse Hospice spent time with each of us, together and separately. They literally ministered to each of us. They made the phone calls we could not make – those we could not think of and those we did not want to make. They were able to take the wheelchairs and other accoutrements that could help others and put them to good use.

The Hospice provided the care necessary to keep the pain away from my grandmother in her last days. They provided the hospital bed, oxygen and painkillers. They provided a soothing voice and helped to lessen our pain as a family.

People of color, as a whole, don’t like the notion of a hospice. People say they don’t like the notion of "waiting for someone to die." But hospice care helps comfort those with terminal illness and their families. Hospices provide the means to pass on in a comfortable environment, with loved ones around you. It allows you the ability to die with dignity. In our community, with so many at death’s door, it is something that is sorely needed. It is something that can provide comfort to everyone involved.

As a family, we made a conscious decision to ask for donations to the Northwest Indiana Visiting Nurse Hospice in my grandmother’s memory in lieu of flowers. At the funeral, my father, his voice cracking, stood and implored to those in attendance, "Please remember hospice."

Today, I echo my father. Please remember hospice.

You can find a Hospice near you at http://www.teleport.com/~hospice/.

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