I don’t think I told this story of my days at the hospice home where my dad was before he died in January. It has stood out in my mind when I think back on that time, but given the overall impact of my dad’s passing and all that surrounded that, this little back-story got left in the dust.
My dad was transported from the hospital to the hospice home late on a Saturday afternoon. The shift was changing right when we got there so we had two nurses coming on as we arrived. They were both super nice and put us at ease instantly. The nursing assistant would end up making several of my dad’s last meals, which he thoroughly enjoyed – there was no “cardiac diet” in hospice and pretty much anything my dad wanted to eat, she was going to try to make it for him. What a sweetheart. The nurse was a woman named Judy, my angel. She had a warmth about her that made even the worst situation seem bearable. She is exactly what a “hospice nurse” should be. We hit it off immediately, as I’m sure she does with every other family at the home. At this point in time, I was a little less than a week out from having run my first half marathon. My soreness in my legs was pretty much gone but once in a while I had little twinges of a reminder. Judy was in my dad’s room with us and she dropped something and as she picked it up she mentioned that she was still sore from a big run last weekend. I asked her if she had done the Rock n’ Roll half marathon and she said – well, yes, but she had run the full marathon this time! This woman is considerably older than me – 60ish? – just as tall and a tiny bit heavier. She didn’t exactly look like a typical “runner”. She went on to tell me that she had done, I think, 7 half marathons and this was the year she was going for the full. I was blown away! I told her a bit about my running journey and the weight loss and she was just so excited to talk to me about that too. We bonded over talking about how running made us feel, the friends we had made, etc. She belongs to a training team and it has helped her get ready for the challenge. I left the hospice home that night to go back to my house, which was right down the street, feeling good about who was with my dad that night – I knew Judy and the rest of the staff would take good care of him.
Four days passed, and Judy did not work any more shifts. The rest of the nurses were very nice and we had some very good ones, of course, but I was hoping to reconnect with her again. On Tuesday afternoon, I had wandered down to the little kitchen area that guests can use to prepare a meal, get a drink, have a snack, take a break, etc. and there was a guy there having his lunch. I knew his father was in the room next door and he had arrived at the hospice home around the same time as my dad, maybe a few hours earlier. Because we were in such close quarters at the end of our hallway and the nurse’s station was right out the front door, I had seen and heard him often during my hours there, but never talked to him. The nurse manager of the facility had stopped in for some coffee and had started a conversation about running. The man, Aaron – I later learned was his name, mentioned that he had just run his first half marathon – same one as me. So we started talking about that…and we talked about how amazing it was that Judy, the nurse, had run her first full marathon. Aaron told me that his dad had gone into the hospital right before the half marathon as well – sounded quite familiar to me. And then he said, “yeah, it was crazy because my son had a gymnastics meet right before the race down in Chandler”… well, as you might recall, right after my race, we had to get to Chandler for my daughter’s meet. I asked him what gym his son trained at and he said, like I always do, “its not regular gymnastics … its this thing called Trampoline and Tumbling”. So when I told him I knew exactly what his son did because my daughter did the exact same thing, we bonded over that and talked about the gyms, the meets, our past trips to Nationals, etc. Such a crazy small world. I was even pretty sure I knew who his son was after he told me about him. It amazes me that at our little end of the hallway in the hospice home, were two people going through such similar experiences – the excitement and challenge of running our first half marathons, juggling that with driving and cheering for our child in a gymnastics meet at nearly the same time … and, as all that is happening, being hit full-force as part of the “sandwich generation” in getting “the call” that our parent is gravely ill. We both were caught in a whirlwind of emotions and were now hunkered down in this “home” spending the last few days or hours with a parent.
The next morning my dad died. I’m sure you can guess which nurse happened to be on duty again – for the first time since the weekend shift. Yep, Judy. She hugged me and told me he was getting close to the end. She stopped in the room often to check on us. We had some family friends stop by and I had stepped out to the hall with them briefly when Judy ran down and got me and took me back to my dad. She held Dad’s hand and helped me help him through his last moments – just the 3 of us in the room. I’m so glad she was the one that was there that day.
I didn’t really get a chance to say anything to Aaron but when I was standing outside the hospice home making the call to my husband to let him know, he walked by me on the sidewalk and gave me a look letting me know he knew what happened and was sorry. That was the last time I saw him – until Saturday. This past Saturday afternoon I drove my daughter down to Tucson for the last regular meet of the season before the State Championship next weekend. It was a good 2.5 hour drive. She warmed up beautifully and nailed her routines, but when it was time for the judging, I’m not sure what happened but she had some pretty uncharacteristic issues. Usually she “brings it” when she competes, but not on Saturday. I know these things happen, but I was flashing back a little too much to last year when it happened at State and we were left with the uncertainty of our travel for Nationals. I was not in a good mood as she took her last place medals in nearly every event. I was trying to not get worked up about it, and I would say that I did much better than I would have last year. But just as she took her last medal, I saw Aaron walk into the stands, and I forgot all about gymnastics. I had watched for him at the 5 or so meets we have had since January. Would he remember who the heck I was? Should I go talk to him? What ever happened with his father? I finally decided I would be kicking myself if I didn’t go find out. So I made my way down to where he was sitting, tapped him on the shoulder, and asked him if he remembered me. Well, he definitely did. He was really happy to see me. He said his father lived another 4 long days. He had finally told his dad that it was OK to go, and he died 6 hours later. He told me he was finally able to talk about it. I could relate and, honestly, I’m glad to see when my emotions match those in similar situations. It is tough to talk about, but it does get easier. He was excited to show me something on his phone, and he scrolled through pictures for a while then found it – telling me I was one of the few that would “understand”…it was a picture of him with our beloved nurse, Judy. I understood, totally. She had left her mark on both of our hearts. My daughter had worked her way to the stands to find me and my tension about the gymnastics performance had diffused quite a bit. Aaron asked her how it went and she said ‘Not so good’…and he said “Aw, it’s all for fun anyway”. That’s the attitude I should have had. I’m glad he reminded me. So, as I left, Aaron told me he was really glad that I found him. He was wondering if/when we might run into each other – with our kids being different sexes/ages/levels, it wasn’t a given that it would happen, but the timing of the meet finally worked out so we were there at the same time. I’m glad I went to talk to him. It really reminded me, yet again, how people in our lives can make all the difference in the world.