How can anyone work in a hospice? I think one of the reasons is that hospice workers are in a position to help people in ways that are unique. The truth is FAIRHOPE Hospice is not as much for someone actively dying nearly as much as it is for someone who is entering the last stage of life.

The last stage of life, according to Medicare, is six months. This is an estimate based on the primary doctor’s belief that if the primary illness be allowed to follow its normal course the patient has six months, or less, of life remaining.

For FAIRHOPE the key phrase is, “…of life remaining.” Crazy as it sounds, we at FAIRHOPE are all about life. And we’re not kidding because the longer someone is on service the more we can help.

When someone is fortunate enough to accept FAIRHOPE service before they are actively dying we are given the opportunity to help them live. For some people their version of living may be that they just want to go home and lead a quiet life. While some may want to visit friends, or go to places they’ve been “meaning to visit.” Others may have a purpose, or a goal, in life that needs to be completed. Through all of these situations FAIRHOPE is there to help.

A FAIRHOPE volunteer told me how he was able to help a patient with a goal he needed to complete before he died. The volunteer said that through this experience he witnessed how FAIRHOPE understands the importance of living one’s life; and that there is still purpose to the end.

As unimportant as it may seem to others the drive to complete a purpose, or goal, may be paramount to the person. As what happens many times when a person on service has a goal to accomplish, the volunteer’s patient lived much longer than expected.

In this case, the volunteer accepted a patient assignment of a man who was in his 60s. At the time of his admission to FAIRHOPE, the patient, “Grandpa John”, was alert, oriented and loved to talk. The volunteer’s conversations with John covered many subjects because this man had led a full life. He was a Navy veteran, he was highly educated and he was very creative.

John also happened to be an accomplished woodworker. He’d made doll houses, bookshelves and toy chests for his children and until recently, for his grandchildren as well. As a military man he was mission-driven. “Git ‘er done” wasn’t a slogan for him it was a way of life.

The volunteer soon learned that the patient was on his final mission. It was a mission that would eventually take a few good men to help complete. Please pardon the generalization, but men tend to be task oriented and relate to the importance of getting the job done, no matter what. In this case the mission was not a dollhouse or toy chest, but a train layout for his six-year-old grandson.

Grandpa John had made gifts for all of his other grandchildren, and now his mission was to build an HO scale train layout for his youngest grandchild, a little six-year-old boy. John knew that it would be his last accomplishment on Earth and wanted it to be his own handy work.

During each weekly visit the two conversed while John worked on the layout. After about a month or so the volunteer noticed a decline in John’s health. He was now bed-bound. In order to get the job done, John had his son make a small workbench to fit over the bed. At one point, John wrapped Velcro on both his wrists and the work bench so that he could control his now shaking hands. That worked well and he had made great progress but the volunteer noticed that John was gradually getting too weak to continue. His illness was taking all of his energy.

It was becoming obvious that John would not be able to get his project completed. Something had to be done. The volunteer talked to John’s son who convinced his dad to accept help. John’s pride was put aside.

With no model train experience but a strong desire to help, the volunteer swung into action. He contacted the manager of a local hobby shop who gave the volunteer the name of a local model railroad club’s president. After several voicemails and a little convincing, the club president put the volunteer in touch with a club member who builds model train layouts as a sideline business.

Hearing of the patient’s plight, the man solicited the help of other club members and agreed to complete the layout quickly and at no charge! Elated, the volunteer stopped by and told John the good news; the layout would be completed. Upon hearing the news, John smiled, laid his head back on his pillow and went into a peaceful sleep.

That evening visit, in which the volunteer told Grandpa John that his layout would soon be complete, turned out to be the last time that the volunteer would see him. John passed four days later on a Saturday morning. Several weeks later the layout was finished by the model train club members who presented it to John’s son. He set it up in his Dad’s workshop and told his son that it was from Grandpa. And it was, both physically and spiritually.

When you understand FAIRHOPE’s philosophy on life, you understand that this story had a happy ending. John still had a specific goal in his life and was allowed to stay focused on it even in the last stage of his life. Also, he allowed a volunteer to help him accomplish that goal. And strangers, some of whom were not enthused with end of life situations, rose to the occasion to assist. It reminds me of what Mr. Rogers’ mom said to him when he saw disasters on the evening news — “Look at all of the good people who are helping.”

FAIRHOPE Hospice has a lot of good people, both volunteers and staff, who are helping. We understand the life has purpose and are willing to help. Especially during the last stage.

Rick Schneider of FAIRHOPE Hospice, writes a bi-monthly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.

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