I have been a supporter of Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard since I first heard of the good work they do. But when my husband, Leslie J, was told by his doctors that there was nothing else they could do to treat his cancer, I became a patient, as they consider the whole family their patient.
From my first panicked phone call to Hospice at 11pm the night Leslie came home from the hospital through the weeks of his dying and the months after his death, the people of Hospice helped me through the saddest and most frightening experience of my life. Hospice is people: nurses, volunteers and counselors.
Lori was Leslie’s nurse, but all the Hospice nurses I met… Lori, Meg, Betsy, June, and Judy…share the same qualities. They are unfailingly calm, competent and compassionate, the qualities you want in a nurse. Now, I am not a nurse, but I had to give Leslie injections. The actual giving of the injection was not hard, but preparing the injection was fiendishly hard. I could not even get the shrink wrap off to get to the packaging, much less get the parts together and working and then test the injection. Lori came to the house and took me through it patiently and made sure I always had four ready to use each time. She accompanied Leslie and myself to his doctor visits and was able to convince him one night to go to the hospital when he needed oxygen. She sent me home hours later when she saw I was crashing and remained with him until he was sleeping.
I was also blessed in the volunteers I had. Of course, Leslie and I had family and friend to help and support us, but the volunteers of our island Hospice are like a secret weapon protecting you. At Leslie’s funeral someone pined an angel pin on my dress, but it really should have gone to my two volunteers, Elaine and Mike.
Elaine came by every day to visit Leslie and give me some respite care and listened to me pour my heart out about what was happening. On the day Leslie died Elaine was with me and when the funeral director came to take his body, I said, “I can’t watch this,” and she took me upstairs and sat with me until I could go down. The next day she drafted my niece and we drew up a list of who should be contacted about funeral and the two of them made all the calls.
Leslie always looked forward to Mike’s visits as well, but what Mike has done in the months since the funeral is extraordinary. He made it clear that he would come to help me weekly and do whatever needed to be done. He has changed light bulbs I couldn’t reach, made dump runs, and carted books to West Tisbury book shack. Leslie had asked me to send his extensive library of plays to his college and Mike helped fill the boxes and get them to UPS to send on.
After Leslie’s death the Hospice counselors, Trudy and Jill, came to my aid. I see Trudy weekly and can talk to her about feelings and problems I am experiencing facingthe pain of living without my husband of 49 years. The bereavement group Jill facilitates gives me the opportunity of talking with women and men who have also lost their spouse or partner.
I never got to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary but thanks to the band of angels who are the people of our Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, I am surviving the 49th year of my marriage without Leslie.
Myra Stark February 2, 2016