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Caregiving, Friendship and a Good Death

Bill and I had not heard that our friend Barbara was in hospice and close to death.  We learned of her passing from another friend who makes a habit of studying the obituaries every Sunday.  Despite her long-standing heart condition, I had expected Barbara to live for many more years.  After all, her mother had survived past 100.  Barbara had been her mother’s long-distance caregiver for several years.

We attended Barbara’s Memorial Service a few days before Christmas.  While the snow fell softly outside the chapel windows, Barbara’s children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones sang and played, recited poetry and shared memories of Barbara and her multifaceted life.  It had been a journey of exploration and connection.  We were struck by how many of her friends and associates had met Barbara unexpectedly on a mountain trail, sometimes for the first time.

Barbara’s illness and the demands of caregiving conspired to interrupt my connection with her in the last few years.  She took great care of herself, but her heart required lots of rest and quiet.  And we, of course, were deeply involved with the evolving and unpredictable needs of my aging father, Frank.

The mind searches for something we could or should have done to avoid this sadness and loss, but there is nothing.  She was surrounded by the love of those closest to her in her final days and hours.  We can’t pull her back to us, but can only now remember her with gratitude.

One of my strongest memories of Barbara is how years ago she introduced me to the Five Wishes. She urged me to fill it out and to pass it on to family and friends.  The year 2011 was finally the year to do this.  I thought of Barbara whenever I picked up the Five Wishes and worked to fill it out with our family group and most recently with the members of my Friday meditation group.

At the lovely buffet lunch served after Barbara’s Memorial Service, I mentioned to her daughter Molly how long it has taken us to complete the Five Wishes.  When I told Molly that I was sure Barbara had completed hers long ago, Molly replied, “No, she never did.”  It amused me to learn that she had never filled it out for herself.

It didn’t matter.  We learned that Barbara had the strength and clarity up to the very last to express her wishes for herself.  She knew when the time had come to call in hospice and surprised her family by interviewing the hospice team and making all the arrangements herself.

She passed quietly and without a struggle early one morning in November with the support of her partner, John.  All who loved her will remember her with deep appreciation for the quality of her presence in our lives.



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