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.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our First Hospice Moment ~ Light Up A Life

Our First Hospice Moment. Light Up A Life.

The Christmas season can be especially hard for those who have lost a loved one.

Each year Hospice of SLO offers a beautiful event, giving people opportunity to remember their loved one in a   ceremony of remembrance called "Light up a Life."  And the year Chester and I came on board, they added an additional night of remembrance for those who were grieving the loss of a pet.  Hospice understood the need to  make an evening separate for pet owners,  as it is not appropriate for Rover's name to follow grandpa's in an event as tender as this.

So to honor all those dealing with a loss...the pet night was added. And Chester and I were invited.

There were not many people in attendance that evening. Just a handful. And, since we were new to Hospice, except for 2 familiar faces, everyone was new to us. Chester was drawn to one man in particular. While people mingled before the ceremony began, Chester wanted to be with Mr.D.

And so, when it was time to sit, we asked Mr. D if we could sit by him.

He welcomed us.

Chester sat between us.  Actually he lay across Mr. D's feet.

At one point big  tears leaked out of Mr. D's eyes, he began to share publicly about his dog,  ...He was my best friend. I don't know if I would be here today if it hadn't been for him...He was by my side throughout my chemo treatments, always there for me....  The tears flowed.  

As he talked, Chester sat up and nestled his head onto the man's lap. Mr. D. hugged him and cried healing tears.

Not a dry eye in the room, as we watched this miraculous moment unfold.

As it turns out, I later learned that  Mr. D was the only non-staff  person at  Light Up A Life.  He was the reason we were there.  And Chester knew.

Hospice of San Luis Obispo...An unexpected journey

While settling into this new land on California's central coast...  it proved challenging to connect with a pet therapy group.  Which was a surprise to me. After all, this IS California, land of dog friendly everything.  AND, as it turned out, my beginning here with pet therapy was not at all what I expected. shocker :-) 

While searching for a Pet Therapy group similar to KPETS in PA, (which does not exist here!), I discovered Hospice of San Luis Obispo on  my web search.  They had a pet therapy program. I called and emailed the pet therapy person.  . As it turns out "Mrs. Pet Therapy Program" moved to Sacramento about the time I moved to the central coast of California.  But at the time I did not know this... of course.

Actually, hmm, as I remember back ---see THIS is why I NEED to write things down WHEN they happen, or I forget the details. I am typing away and there is this little knock on my brain door...."remember that chain of events???"  And I paws...and I'm like, oh wow....   

So here is the oh wow, I wasn't going to even write about today, until Someone knocked on my brain door.

As I said, Hospice of SLO and I were having a hard time connecting, and as days/weeks passed I sort of  convinced myself that Hospice was not really my calling.  Or Chester's. So I didn't pursue it any further.

But then, there was this one day~
Chester and I did a spontaneous visit to Garden House, (a lovely home in Morro Bay where they tenderly care for men and women with memory loss).  A woman in the waiting room approached me. She gave me her card. She worked with a Hospice organization. She would love for us to volunteer with them.

Same day.  I am in Costco w.a.i.t.i.n.g. to get my new cool glasses :-).   Sitting and waiting with me is my buddy Chester in his therapy dog vest. A woman sits down next to me. She is a nurse with yet another Hospice group. She gives me her card. She would like Chester and I to come volunteer with her group.

Same day, I get a phone call from Hospice of SLO from the director Kris, apologizing for the delay in responding, but somehow my email got lost in the email pile....because their pet therapy person moved to Sacramento...   She was so kind and genuine; I almost jumped through the phone and asked "Would you be my friend? I 'm new here and friendless."  

So, after 3 unexpected Hospice moments in one day,  I thought perhaps I should rethink my position on "hospice not being my thing" and take a peek at this possibility for Chester and me.

Good decision.

There is a quote on a greeting card I picked up in Estes Park, Colorado. I have it hanging on my office wall ~ attached to the Rand McNally USA map, charting our journey from sea to shining sea....

"Sometimes your journey will take you off of YOUR path,... 
 Life is full of exquisite diversions."

Volunteering with Hospice of San Luis Obispo has turned out to be an unexpected & exquisite journey for Chester and me. Such a wonderful group of caring men and women who continue to teach me so very much. We are blessed to be a part. Thank you, Kris, for calling me back that day, your timing was perfect.  

Warmly signed,
  Mrs. Pet Therapy, Hospice of SLO