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Friday, February 28, 2014

Saying Goodbye....

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, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

Saying goodbye is always tough, but this time it was especially hard. Gopher and I had been visiting her every other week for 1 year, 9 months and 2 weeks when we had to bid adieu. She had been among the first of our patients in hospice volunteering, and we never missed an opportunity to spend time with her. Gopher would get excited at the mention of he name and whimper as we turned the corners nearing her home. She was one of his favorites.

Saying goodbye was especially hard because she had not been renewed for hospice services, she was still ill, and still suffered from her disease, it will be the disease that will end her life. However after many months she had not continued to decline naturally she had plateaued, thus was no longer eligible for the care that hospice provides. It is uncommon, but does happen that a person can graduate hospice. This is indeed joyful news as she will continue her time on Earth and have more memories with family and friends.

I am not a friend though, I am a Volunteer Professional Caregiver and so is Gopher so as the service is removed, I must also stop my visits. We had to bid farewell.

I knew this was to be the last visit for a few days and as I knocked on the door, Gopher sitting obediently at my side with tail wagging hard in anticipation I had to remind myself, just breathe.

The door opened and I was greeted by her husband a warm smile on his face and his attention quickly turned to Gopher. "What, why are you here, we don't like dogs here", he joked as he reached down and gave Gopher a scratch at the ear.

We walk into the house and settle into our place. Gopher gets up in his chair and leans in for the pets and the treats he is about to receive.

We talk about the good news, graduating from hospice, and what it means. They ask me a few times if there is any way I can continue to visit. 

Just breathe, Chad, breathe.

"Unfortunately no, I am unable to continue visiting as Gopher and I have to visit as part of a service and since the hospice services are being removed I am unable to continue visits."

Breathe, pet Gopher, and look away so the tears that have started to form cannot be seen.

They say they understand, we continue our visit. 

Our patient leans into Gopher, "Gopher I am going to miss you, you are such a good friend Gopher, I love you." Tears are dripping down her face and the leash grows tighter in my hand as Gopher leans in closer to her. She buries her head in his fur and once again his coat absorbs more tears. It is unimaginable how many tears have been dried by that golden fur.

I get closer, pet Gopher while looking out the window so that the family could not see my own tears. 

Gopher and I present her with a prayer shawl as a memento and get up to leave for the last time, at least for now. I remind them that should services be necessary again to ask for Gopher and I.
I shake her hand, "Thank you, it has been an honor to be here."  I shake hands and say goodbye to the rest of the family. Then hurriedly rush to the door as I feel the tears welling up and do not want to let them see me lose my composure.

This was not what I had signed up for when I joined hospice, an started working with the family and patient. Gopher and I were supposed to be there to help support in any way we could until the inevitable end, but we had no end. Our patient was still ill, still suffering, and still wanted to see Gopher, but we could no longer visit. It feels as if we left with our job unfinished.

In the time leading up to our last visit and even as I write this I still struggle with our goodbye. We were not done, we had committed to be with the family and the patient until the end, and the end had not arrived, but we are no longer in service. It was possible for us to continue visiting her, she had become so special to us and it was tempting. However to do this I would have had to move past the caregiver relationship to that of a friend, I would have also had to take a leave of absence from the hospice program, and stopped visiting our other patients. Being raised on Star Trek, this seemed wrong as "The need of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." It was logic that made me say goodbye, so that I could continue to visit the other patients who had grown to love and need Gopher as well.

It is a perfectly logical decision and the right one, if only logic would fix my heart. 

Live long and prosper. 


  1. Oh wow. I guess in a way it is a happy parting - like you said she has more time, but at the same time... Her visits with you and Gopher may have been keeping her going.

    Monty and Harlow

    1. Thank you for the comment. It was a rough experience, we expected to be there with her until the end, and we might end up getting called back, but might not. I know it sounds miserable to be there until someone passes, but it is what we signed up for and we were resigned to it. Hard to change the thought process.