Holding elderly man's hand

A Patient’s Final Days

A number of years ago, I was conducting a workshops in Ventura, CA. Jane, a sixty-four-year-old attendee, asked if I would go to a local nursing home where her father was now living. Upon arrival, we found him sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the room. He was shaking from the cold and had wet himself. Jane immediately called for the ward nurse, who cleaned him and put him in bed.

Now lying on his back, he looked at me, as I stood beside the bed rail. In my interview with Jane, she revealed that her 91-year-old father had been a farmer all his life. I offered—and he took—my right hand in his. Having been raised on a 400-acre farm, I began by talking to him about plowing a field. His attention was riveted on the verbal image I painted, of how different-sized birds of various colors would swoop down to look for worms in the freshly-turned sod. I went through the whole process of tilling the field, planting the seeds in furrows, all followed with a warm Spring rain.

I reminded him of how much energy it took before the wheat, oats, and corn could be eventually harvested. And, that once the fruits of his labors had proved successful, the stalks and chaff would die off, having fulfilled their life cycle. Everything eventually returns to the earth, giving life to the next planting.  

He held my hand with a farmer’s grip, indicating that he understood my meaning. I reminded him how successful he had been and that, as a result, he could now mentally scan his body and give thanks to every bone, to every nerve and muscle for having done the work that no one but a farmer could know. All his efforts radiated in his children who, like the wheat, were bearing good fruit. Inner peace comes with the knowledge that a father had done well.  

For more than half an hour, we never broke eye contact. At one point, his eyes grew moist when I spoke of his family’s gratitude for all he had done for and with them. Before long, he closed his eyes, grasping my hand a little tighter. And then, he was asleep. Knowing his subconscious could still hear me, I spoke a while longer about being more comfortable than he’d felt since the day he came to live here. I suggested that any part of the pain he felt could be divided into three parts; the recalled pain of the past, the actual pain of now, and the perceived pain of future outcome. That he now could accept the pain of now as a necessary outcome of a life well-lived.

After putting his mind and body at ease, I realized I’d been talking to him for 45-minutes! Letting go of his hand and slowly covering it with the top of his blankets, I turned to see Jane, the nurse, and a male supervisor standing at the foot of the bed. They were all in tears. I was so absorbed in my connection with the elderly man that I never heard a sound from any of them.

Months later, Jane called to tell me that three days after my visit, she took her father home. He remained there for an additional six-months until his death. She said that he was nearly pain-free during all that time.

It is truly impossible for me to express how much I love my work! This is how you help people. Not with pills, just an hour here, an hour there. Pass your abilities on! Don’t take them to the grave with you!

 

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