Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Certain Memories Stand Out More

The following article was written by one of Circle of Life's patient volunteers, Lisa Kelley. She has been a part of the COL team for over three years.  I thought this article gave great insight into the hospice world.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 
Certain Memories Stand Out More
-By Lisa Kelley
When you look back over your life thus far, what do you remember most?  Those moments where everything went according to plan, or where something happened that carried you away from your charted course?  For me, I tend to remember the Plan B’s of life far more often than the Plan A’s.
I remember the wretched aroma of our high school gymnasium after someone poured deer scent (eh, that’s a pungent blend of deer urine, for those unfamiliar with the term) all over the floor right before our commencement exercises, and I remember the ensuing laughter echoing from our class as parents held their noses in disgust.  I remember the times when my mother, newly divorced and on her own for the first time in her life, tried to build a fire in the wood stove.  We spent many a winter’s night with snow on the ground and us in our summer gowns with the windows thrown open because it was hotter than Hades in the house.  I remember the night my father left; the day my marriage ended; the curious combination of smells (artificial roses, Cotillion perfume and moth balls?) that defined my great-grandmother’s house; the sight of my kitten and puppy having toilet-papered my entire living room, twice; the amazing, free-spirited feeling of hopping in the car with my dog and driving 3,000 miles across the Old West without reservations or itinerary.  Those moments, when we are completely off-script and thrust square into the unexpected, those moments I remember.
As a volunteer at our local Circle of Life Hospice, I’ve had the privilege of being invited into the most private moments of those facing the final stages of life as we know it.  For many, this is a time of reflection over life’s events, and I’ve noticed a common thread woven throughout their stories.  Without exception, each person has shared with me stories containing two central themes:  faith and family, and their heartbreak or triumph with either.
The first patient I was ever paired with was a quiet lady with strained family relations.  She hadn’t opened up much with the doctors, nurses, social worker or clergy, but on the afternoon of our first meeting, she confessed her socks off to me.  Perhaps it was easier to talk with the person who wasn’t there to poke her with a needle or change her linens; I had no agenda other than to be there for her in any way that I could.  Of all the moments in all her years, the ones she focused on were the ones that tormented her, ones where both God and kin seemed far away.  She wanted to talk, so I listened, and then shared with her about my similar failings and of the grace I believe is afforded us all.  Her face softened as tears streamed down her face, and though she still talked about those troubling times, she began to share more and more about the other memories of her life as well. 
A woman of extremely limited means, she said she’d never given much thought about her final arrangements and that she’d likely have whatever was cheapest.  I asked if she could have anything at all and money was no object, what she would want.  She said she always hoped to be buried in a dress.  “You know, a pretty church dress,” she said.  I replied how that seemed fairly reasonable to me.  She smiled slightly, looked down and said, “I guess so, but I don’t own a dress.”
The plain white box was delivered anonymously.  Inside, beneath mounds of tissue paper, the pastel dress awaited its new owner.  I heard that she beamed with delight and couldn’t believe the dress was hers.  She immediately wanted to try it on.  It fit perfectly.  I thought it looked lovely on her at her service.
Perhaps the times remembered most are the simple, unexpected moments when we’re called to be something different than we planned.  When we’re available, laying aside expectations, clearing our calendars and putting down the iGadgets long enough to have real, face-to-face conversations with the world around us.  When we let something just happen.  Sometimes, being receptive to an altered course and making the most of Plan B is enough.  Sometimes, there’s no higher priority in life than a pretty dress.

-This copyrighted article published with permission from NWA Media and the Benton County Daily Record. (

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