As a hospice nurse, I think about these moments, sometimes you see them coming, and sometimes you don’t.
I went to a continuous care case one evening in an elderly couple’s condo. I spent the night in the bedroom with my patient who looked like a tiny little doll in a big oversized bed. She was very frail and I managed to keep her comfortable as her husband slept in their guest bedroom. Early the next morning her husband stood at the door watching as I was finishing propping her up with pillows. He came in and sat on the bed beside her carefully carrying a single cup of coffee. It was their routine he told me, over their long married life, to share one cup of coffee between them each morning. This morning he held the cup to her lips as she barely was able to take a sip. And as I left them to continue my nurse’s charting on the couch in the outer room, it hit me, sadly, that I knew this was to be the last day they would share something so special and so simple as a shared cup of coffee.
Another morning a different patient of mine at the hospice house was shocked to receive a visit from her brother and sister in law. They had traveled all the way from New Zealand to see her, and arrived with bags of bakery goods, coffee and lots of old family pictures. She had had no idea they were coming and their reunion was bittersweet. They spent hours talking, laughing, reminiscing. In between my handing out medications, neb treatments, tracking down a wheelchair, and serving up more coffee, I was rewarded with being let in on a few of the family secrets. Her brother stayed for 5 more days, and then as he was passing by the nurse’s station he handed me several phone numbers that he wanted to be sure were placed in his sister’s contacts file. The hugs, kisses, and handshakes goodbye were the last physical touch either of them would would have with each other. Her sister in law died of a heart attack a little over a week after returning home to New Zealand.
In that last week when my dad’s hospice nurse asked him if he was hungry, and he answered with a hesitant “I like ice cream”, little did we know that that would become a last times moment. He never spoke again.
Of course you don’t have to be dying to appreciate, or experience a last times. For instance, there is a very last time you will buy diapers, a very last time you will carry your child on your hip, a very last time you will visit a place, or a very last time your family will be all gathered together in one place. I think people are a lot better about documenting those last times now and posting them to their facebook, instagram, or snapchat and twitter accounts. But other times it’s only when you look back on those pictures that it hits you, how mighty powerful it is to realize that was a last time moment.