Bracing myself to walk into the patient’s room, I asked myself again “Am I even helping this family?” The patient, who once let me to hold her hand and gently stroke her hair during visits, now wouldn’t even look at me. She was mad at the world. She fought against moving up to the memory care floor where many of the other residents suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The patient certainly had some memory issues but she could still communicate her needs… for now.
Following her move to the 4th floor, her demeanor changed. We expect that any transition will be difficult and stressful for patients, especially in hospice. The patient I once knew, soon became agitated and upset. I showed up each week to comfort her only child, her daughter, who earlier that summer had just lost her father (the patient’s husband). They were grieving. It was tough. At times even I felt helpless, wondering what else I could do for them. We continued to visit, sometimes talking about the difficulties of the decline, other times just staying silent.
Her mother slowly faded away, eventually passing. I tried calling her after and only got voicemails. It can be difficult in this field to work with families so closely during such intimate moments and not get closure. Certainly we understand that none of this is about us, it’s all about them and their journey. These are our patients and not our own family members, but we would be lying if we said we didn’t truly care for them.
I didn’t get a call back, so all I could do was wonder how she was doing.
A few weeks passed when I received an email from her, thanking the staff for our care and concern for her and her mother. She said she was doing okay, trying to get things in order.
She ended the email with “Thanks to both of you for your help and especially to you, Sara.” Such a simple statement spoke volumes.
Could I change what she was going through?
Of course not.
Sometimes the power lies in just showing up, day after day.
When people are truly grieving, it’s not about “magic words” to make them feel better.
Those magic words don’t exist.
What does matter though, is showing up. Walk with them through their grief.
Just be there.