Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written.
Gopher, Chad, Squirrel and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.
Gopher and I recently answered a plea for a late comer to hospice. The patient had been admitted that day, but was at the point of hours not days, weeks or even months. Death was eminent, and the service I volunteer with offers vigil, so a patient need not be alone in their final hours. The patient and his family did not require or even request this service. The patient however wanted to see a dog again, and so the request was sent out and Gopher and I answered the call.
I was somewhat concerned for Gopher, this would be the first time that we would visit a patient this close to death. I was not as concerned with myself as I am comfortable around death due to my extended exposure as a child. There was no reason to be concerned as Gopher handled himself beautifully. The room was full of family and quite warm when we arrived. Gopher and I were welcomed and I pulled us a chair so that Gopher could sit on it and be visible to the patient. There Gopher sat looking toward the patient, the patient took a few moments to locate Gopher and then his eyes locked and he smiled. He no longer had the strength to pet Gopher, so they just sat there looking at one another smiling, while I fielded questions about Gopher from the family. Nearly half an hour passed that way, and then the patient dozed off with a smile on their face. Gopher knew it was time to work the room so he dismounted the chair and approached each of the eager family members.
He approached each one of them with a solid look into their eyes and a very gentle tail wag, not too much excitement or exuberance, nice and gentle, a comforting presence. Gopher knew it was not a time to play or for tricks, he knew they needed a moment of comfort like only petting can bring. Once he approached all of the adults he went to the group of children who had been occupying a space in the far corner. All too young to truly understand what was going on in the room around them, all slightly afraid and upset, to see their respective parents in varying degrees of sadness.
All of the kids turned as Gopher approached and smiled as he took a spot in the center so all could pet him at one time. The kids all asked questions about Gopher and wanted to see a few tricks which Gopher obliged. This brought on some fits of laughter which brought smiles to every adult in the room. As the adults turned back to their various conversations the kids began to talk to Gopher about what was going on around them. “Grandpa is dying Gopher, which means he is going away and can’t come back.” “I think mom and dad are here to make sure he doesn’t forget us or anything for his trip. They always checked my bag whenever I go anywhere to make sure I don’t forget anything.” ”They told me that once Grandpa is gone we will go to a church where we can say goodbye.” “They told me not to be afraid, so you shouldn’t be scared either Gopher.” The conversation between the kids and Gopher continued. I did not interrupt or correct, it was not my place, my place was to be on the other end of the leash, Gopher ‘s place was to listen so they could figure out how to talk about it and possibly ask their parents questions later as they rationalized what was happening in their young minds.
The session was broken by the adults in the family who had determined it was time to go home, one person returning after she put her children to bed to spend the night. We bid are farewells and let them know Gopher and I would sit a little longer. After sitting alone with the patient for about forty-five minutes, Gopher let me know it was time to go home. We went to leave and I had presumed the patient was still resting when I heard a low rasp, “Thank you.” I told the patient it was my pleasure, and thanked him for visiting with Gopher, and we left. We would not see him again as the patient passed away the following morning. Gopher though did what he was supposed to do, let a dying man see a dog again, and went above my expectations in counseling the family and children in his own way.