Claire White displays a drawing and photo of herself as a member of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps.
Did you know that stories can heal a person's soul?
One of my hospice patients is a 99-year-old woman who served as a radio technician in World War II. Claire is a beautiful lady with dementia who lights up when I visit each week even though she doesn’t remember me. All I have to do is introduce myself again and tell her I am there to listen to her stories if she wishes to share them with me.
During one visit, Claire wasn’t in the lobby of the elderly care facility where she lives. That seemed odd because she is very much a person of habit and this was the time she normally would be in the lobby according to both my experience and that of the residential staff. I went up to her room and knocked on the door. There was no answer, but I also know she is hard of hearing. The door was ajar, so I pushed it open slightly and called out loudly for her. I heard her quiet response inside.
I went in and found Claire in her reclining chair, her hands across her abdomen, a look of pain on her face. I introduced myself again and showed her my hospice badge. She looked at me and said, “I’m not feeling well today... I don’t think I am going to be very good company.”
I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that her stomach hurt. I asked if she had anything to eat for breakfast and she shook her head, saying that her stomach has been hurting all morning. I took a mental note of all her symptoms so I could make a report to her medical team. I asked Claire if she wanted me to leave. She thought for a bit then said, “I think so,” and repeated that she wouldn’t be good company.
I stood, walked over to Claire, put my hand on her shoulder and said next to her ear (so I wouldn’t have to speak loudly), “It’s not a problem, I will go... but can I ask one question?” She tilted her head to look at me. I pointed to the photo on the dresser next to us of an elderly gentleman who I knew to be her beloved deceased husband.
I asked, “Who is that very handsome man?” She looked at the photo I was pointing at and then right back at me. Her eyes shifted a bit and I could see her brow unfurrow. A small, shy smile spread across her lips and she said quietly, with a hint of pride, “Oh, that’s my husband.” I walked over to the photo that I have seen many times and knew very well and said, “My goodness, he is a good looking gentleman. How long were you married?”
With that question, Claire launched into a series of her favorite stories about her husband and how she met him, what he said when he asked her out, and their long, beautiful time together. After that I asked her about the quilt on her bed, which I knew she made. She immediately put her feet down in the recliner and sat up, pointing to the intricate stitches. She became animated and excited in her telling of the awards she had won for her quilting.
For the next hour and a half, I gave light prompts to all the stories I knew were her favorite, like when she once met Bob Hope and fixed his radio. Three times she asked me if she had told me about how she met Bob Hope and three times I told her, “I think you only mentioned it briefly... can you tell me more?” and she would light up in delight that she could tell me her wonderful claim to fame.
At the end of our time together, I pointed to the clock and told Claire it was almost time for lunch. I asked her if she wanted me to walk her down the facility dining room. She had a look of surprise and said, “Oh my goodness! It’s already lunch time. I am famished!” With that, we walked to the elevator. On the way down, she turned to me and asked, “Who are you again?” I showed her my badge and she nodded. “Ah yes. I remember who you are now! You are my angel sent to me by God to bring me joy.” I put my hand on my heart and I thanked her for sharing her stories with me.
As I walked out of the facility, I had tears in my eyes. Today, I got to be someone's angel.
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About the author
Meghan Gardner is a Care Dimensions volunteer. She has written previously about her hospice volunteering and recorded a video interview about what being a hospice volunteer means to her.