CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We knew that the day was coming. The trips to the emergency room, followed with tests, procedures, office visits, on and on. What we didn't know was when that day would actually come.But it did, and we were given the final diagnosis: organs shutting down, a rupture somewhere in the digestive system, organs too weak to survive the needed procedures.The doctor was so good to take the time to explain that the best course of action was to make the patient comfortable through palliative care. She would contact HospiceCare.This was followed by a night in the hospital waiting for the social worker from HospiceCare. Esther, my wife, was in tentative spirits when the social worker arrived. He was pleasant, asking us questions, checking medical records and said that he would check for bed availability at Hubbard Hospice House. With those words we began the final journey.How does one begin to describe Hubbard Hospice House? The large patients' rooms are open, spacious, well-furnished and arranged not only to care for the patient, but to provide patient, family and friends comfort and support. My wife spent the day fully alert and responsive.Our three adult children became concerned that food and water weren't offered to their mother. A staff member took time to explain to them that as the body starts shutting down, it doesn't want or need food and that forcing solid and liquids causes the patient discomfort and pain.We were told that there was a family room with hot soup, beverages and a full kitchen that the family could use and to make ourselves at home. The only conflict we witnessed (through windows) was birds trying to get the squirrels out of their feeders.
Esther was there for four days full of meaning on so many levels. On one occasion I had an aide help me place her in a wheelchair so that we could go outside in the warmth of the sun to enjoy the beautiful gardens. As the sun was setting we came in to find a group of men singing four-part harmony. Sensing Esther's tiredness, I wheeled her into her room, and the men followed asking if they could come in and sing some more. Well, why not? They proceeded to sing old love songs. Standing behind Esther to steady her head, I glanced around to see her smiling wistfully. What a moment in time.Later, we were gathered around Esther when a diminutive lady entered and asked if she could come in and visit. She introduced herself and began asking comforting questions. Then she asked if she could sing a song for us. She sang it a cappella, and it was truly beautiful. She offered a prayer and left. I had to follow her out because of my own doubts, misgivings and fears about what lay ahead. She was a true blessing to me, giving me the strength that I needed in the following days.Our neighbors, Tim and Lorene, brought the family dog for a visit. She jumped up on the bed and with hands and paws joined, Tim led us in prayer.Father Sadie came to visit and give the sacraments. Afterward, Esther told Father Sadie how she wanted her funeral. He chuckled and said she would receive as good a funeral Mass as any bishop with a choir, organ -- "the works," he called it. And she did.Each of our children stayed one night while I went home to rest, giving them time to spend with their mother to remember, to prepare, to say goodbye in their own time and way. On the fourth evening, Esther passed peacefully with my eldest son present.There was much grief and sorrow to follow from the separation and loss, but there was gladness in that, thanks to the efforts of many who serve through HospiceCare and Hubbard Hospice House, my wife had a red carpet to heaven.Jim Brannon lives in Poca. He may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.