Monday, July 13, 2015

When Caregivers Need the Love-n'

I was told that Mr. P might like a visit from Chester. In the past, Mr. P totally enjoyed large dogs. All were in agreement, Chester just might be a good fit for
 Mr. P during his Hospice Care.

And so, Chester and I went.

 My GPS lead me to a residential home. The home, converted into a care-home was lovely.  Mrs. P greeted me with a tender and appreciative hug.  She introduced me to the staff, then  lead me down the hallway to  Mr. P's room.  It was bright, full of light ~ with one hospital bed positioned close to the large window, 2 wing back chairs, and  a small dresser and a nightstand. The walls were simply decorated with  one of Mrs. P's beautiful handmade quilts and family pictures.

Chester and I attempted to meet and greet Mr. P with all the doggy charisma he could muster. However, as it turned out, Mr. P was not so interested in the big dog. In fact, maybe even a bit annoyed.  We tried paws up at the end of the bed. Chester smiled, "Cheese!".  Not connecting. We tried edging close to Mr. P's hand, so he could pet Chester's soft furry head. Nope- not interested.  I used treats to lure Chester's fuzzy head through the side railings, nudging Mr. P with a wet nose and a tender muzzle-nuzzle. But Mr. P was not interested at all. In fact, Mr P, who talked very little, mustered up the strength to say to Chester and me and Mrs. P with conviction... "Too Precarious!" To that we laughed -- knowing that Mr. P's strength and humor were still tucked inside his failing body.

It was clear....Mr P and Chester were not a fit.

However....the unexpected,  unfolded.   After each attempt to connect with The Mr., Chester would settle down next to The Mrs., snuggling by her chair, at her feet, or leaning into her side for a scratch behind the ears.  Chester and Mr. P may not have connected, but Chester and Mrs. P clearly did.

The road of a loved-one and caregiver on the Hospice Journey,  can become long.

Enter Chester and his 'mom'.

Our once a week visits became a bright spot in Mrs P's week. And ours.  When Chester pranced in, Mr. P's room became homey...and Mrs.P's load became a bit lighter.  And while Mr P rested in bed, Mrs P and I visited about teaching and travels and dance and pilates and concerns about Mr. P and sewing and art and family.  During our conversations, Chester would nestle at her feet, or lean into her legs.

Chester enjoyed visits with Mrs. P. The staff greeted him with warm hugs. Chester liked cruising through the kitchen on his way to Mr. P's room, nose twitching and savoring whatever was being cooked up for lunch. He delighted in annoying the two little doggies who lived upstairs, and he totally loved poking his head into Mrs J's room who had more pictures of dogs up on her walls than people.  Mrs. J would tell us each week how she didn't like those yippy dogs who lived upstairs but she LOVED BIG DOGS like Chester. She would always give the BIG DOG a hearty hug, and sometimes throw the tennis ball for him...down the slippery hallway...and he would scramble extra LOUD to retrieve it, just so the yippy dogs upstairs would know he was there, in THEIR house, having fun! :-).

After months of visits, Chester began to disconnect. I wasn't sure what was going on with my buddy, but it was clear he was not so-much interested in being in Mr P's room, or at Mrs P's feet. Minutes after arriving, he was ready to go ~~ his big brown eyes were on the doorway, he tugged at his leash to leave,  his tail drooped, and overall he was edgy, not relaxed one little bit. Did he know more than I did, that our time was done?  Mrs. P commented, "I don't think he likes being here anymore."  :-(

She was right, and this was a tough call for me. If Chester was burning out, for whatever reason, I needed to pay attention and respect what was going on with my buddy. However, I knew the visits meant so much to Mrs P and I hated to end our time together while we were still needed.  I wrestled with what to do, not knowing how much longer Mr. P would be with us.

Over the weekend I pondered and prayed, gathered advice from pet therapy friends and trainers, AND,  I took Chester for a long walk at the coast. He romped and ran off-leash for hours and just enjoyed being a d..o.g. !  The spot by the sea where I chose to 'play' just happened to be near Mr. and Mrs. P's home.  It was a last minute decision to go to this spot. I thought it was 'my' last minute decision.

Though I doubted Mrs P would be at home, (usually, 7 days a week,  at this time of day, she was by Mr P's side), I decided to drop by before making the 1/2 hour trek back to our house.

Mrs P greeted me at the door. We embraced, and then she said....."Mr P died this morning."

oh no.....

She told me she had just walked in the door, she was home alone, and was making some calls to her children. Her phone rang, and after answering, she motioned for Chester and me to come inside.

Talking to her daughter, Mrs. P smiled warmly and said, "You'll never guess who's here... Chester!"

After wrapping up her conversation, Mrs. P gave Chester a delicious bowl of cool water. 2 bowlfuls. He slobbered and drooled all over her clean shiney floor. I asked for paper towels please :-) .

We sat together in the study, overlooking the gorgeous rugged coastline. Chester leaned into Mrs. P's legs, she stroked his head and back as she told us the details of the morning and her last few days with Mr. P.  She shared her thoughts, her plans,  for today and tomorrow....and at some point she gently asked me, "How did you know to come?"

"I didn't ... we were just taking a walk nearby, and I wanted to stop in to give you a hug."

 *****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~****~~~~~~~~~~~~ *****~~~~~~~~~~*******~~~~~~~ 

A few afterthoughts..
As I think back to our time with Mr. and Mrs. P and write down the memories, things become so much clearer in hindsight.   It is easier to see God's gentle leading and prompting, like a Shepherd...

How I didn't need to stress or question when Chester knew we were not needed in Mr. P's room anymore.  He knew it was time to go.   And Mr. P's time to go.  

How on that final day when we were needed...God made sure we showed up, at the right place in the right moment. His prompting, His leading.  

I am amazed. And humbled. Again.

It reminds me of what Jesus says in Matthew.  The Message says it this way:
"Walk with Me and work with Me, watch how I do it. Learn the unforced 
rhythms of grace.
 I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  
Keep company with Me, and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

and from Amazing Grace...
Tis grace hath  brought me safe thus far, 
and Grace will lead me home.

A perfect day for me to write and remember.  Thank You.

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