Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hospice and Support Groups

I just came back from an "Evening of Remembrance" given by the hospice that helped my mother in the last days of her life. It's an event this hospice puts on once or twice a year to acknowledge and celebrate the people we've lost, and the people they've helped. I went alone, knowing some of my three previous support group members would probably be there. I didn't mention it to my brother because I didn't think he would want to go. He might have if I'd ask him to, but I also feel my grief is very personal, something I am sharing with my mother. I know that sounds odd, but I think my mother would understand.

The event took place at a church in Groton, a town I lived in briefly about ten years ago. It's a beautiful town and the church was on the town green, near the Lawrence Academy campus. It was raining, fitting for such an occasion. I parked and walked up to the entrance, greeted by a man holding an umbrella asking if I was family. For a minute, I thought I might be in the wrong place. But no, I'd seen my hospice support group leader in the doorway when I arrived. So I guess I am "family."

It was a beautiful ceremony. We were asked to bring, and put on the table in the front of the room, photos or mementos of the person we lost. I brought in a photo of both my mom and dad that I took when we were in Hawaii a few years ago. It was a very stressful time for my mom, and she looks a little tired in the photo, but she also looks happy. And dad looks very content in the photo. At the time, he (we) didn't know he was in early onset dementia and he thought he would be moving permanently to Hawaii; why wouldn't he be happy?

The evening was highlighted by The Threshold Choir, an choir featured on NPR. I wanted them to come to sing for my mom but we ran out of time. In between a cappella songs, hospice workers and volunteers read poetry, read Water bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney, lit some candles, and read the names of all the people who had died under their care. I thought they would never finish, yet I started to wonder as the names went on: would they forget my mother? I know I'm a little controlling, especially since I even emailed my support leader earlier in the day to confirm she was on the list. This was my mom's opportunity to be mourned in a church, even if it wasn't her own memorial. It was more than a hundred names later, near the end, when they mentioned Nancy Ambrose. I had to smile.

Actually, it was almost a brief ceremony. I was trying to stay composed, and only got teary-eyed when I would glance up at the table at the photo of my parents. Luckily, the photo was not in my direct line of sight, so I only looked at it once or twice, tearing up each time. One of the hospice social workers stood up to read a poem and I quickly recognized her as being the person we relied on as my mother began to die. We called her several times a day and then again soon after my mother passed. She helped us by calling the coroner and arranging everything. She instructed us on bathing and dressing my mother for the last time. It was something I will never forget. As she stood at the table, she began reading a very moving original poem with great emotion. A man in the audience started to sob and got up to leave the room. A few hospice employees I know followed quickly to help him. I tried not to notice, but the poem was very sad, and I started to wipe my eyes and my nose, both of which were running at this point. Please bring back the choir I said to myself. Time to breath.

And then it was over. People were milling about and starting to socialize, weaving their way toward the drinks and snacks at the back of the room. I didn't want to make small talk with all the social workers and health aides and pastors that helped my mom and our family, so I decided to leave. I did want to thank them all for all they did for us, as I really do believe they made it easier for us during that terrible time, but I couldn't do it. It seems like a dream, now almost a year later. Those sad memories are beginning to fade slowly, and the happier memories are taking their place, just like they say. I quickly grabbed my photo, put my coat on, and left. At least I went. And I am glad I did.

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