I Lost a Friend This Afternoon
by Paul Strickland, Board Chair Down East Hospice Volunteers
"Friendship is a mysterious and ocean-bottom thing. Who can know the outer ranges of it? Perhaps no human being has ever explored its limits."
~ Zora Neale Hurston
I want to dedicate this blog to the selfless volunteers of Down East Hospice Volunteers (DEHV) and to the compassionate Community Health and Counseling Services (CHCS) nurses and staff who serve Washington County.
I lost a hospice client and a friend this afternoon. In a small way, this is my way to wish him God's speed. He still lives on earth in the acts of goodness he performed and in the hearts of those who cherish his memory. May the source of peace send peace to all who mourn and comfort all the bereaved among us.
I first began meeting with my hospice client in August 2020. We met at least once a week for over an hour and a half to two hours until his death on July 21, 2022. We had not met each other until 2020 but over time we became close friends. Friends who could complete each other's sentences and at times be very comfortable being in each other's presence without talking.
His son was a marvelous caregiver for his dad, and he prudently realized that one of the things his dad needed was companionship. As we continued to meet during the height of the pandemic, the three of us would regularly discuss how we could continue to meet and at the same time protect ourselves from Covid as much as possible. None of the three of us contracted the virus.
It is an amazing gift to spend time with someone who is facing the last days of their life. In some ways, any need for pretense falls to the side and leaves two people who are who they are with no need to be anything or anyone else. I say that hospice volunteers are witnesses to another person's life story while standing in awareness and sitting with uncertainty. Volunteers become keenly aware that their presence is likely the most valuable service they provide.
My client (I do not use his name for confidentiality reasons) was a citizen of Ireland, a master shipbuilder, a journalist with The Guardian newspaper in Great Britain, and an editor and publisher of newspapers in Africa. While in Africa he interviewed the Agha Khan and got to know Idi Amin (before he became a monster, he said). He told a story of arranging for bands at a social club he belonged to in Africa. He once got a call from a friend who said there were a couple of Americans who were touring, and he wondered if the club would be interested in having them perform - their names were Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald!
We both had an interest in travel, and he loved to listen to my tales of the around-the-world trip I was fortunate to take. India and Australia were of great interest to him.
He was interested in current events and would ask me each week, "So what's the news of the town and of Maine?" I still find myself hearing news or learning of some event that occurred that I wish to share with him and then coming to the realization - he is no longer here.
While he was still able to travel, we took a day trip to the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine. He knew and had worked with the Executive Director of the school, and he was delighted to see the school again and to renew his acquaintance. At times, we were able to visit our family camp on the St. Croix. He particularly liked low tide and how the scenery changes every six hours. At other times, we went on a simple drive around the county and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Maine countryside. I will miss him.
I continue to be amazed and inspired by CHCS hospice nurses and staff and the loving kindness they practice with their patients and the reverence they exhibit in the face of death.
We are all indebted to our DEHV hospice volunteers who donate their precious time and energy to serving their neighbors. They are special people, and we gratefully salute them.
"Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each one of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet at times seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of our daily lives, however, there is one thing we know to be true. We are here for the sake of others.
~ Albert Einstein