by Maria Lorensen
Development Director, Hospice of the Panhandle
I happened to raise my head and look out my office window last week as the sun was getting ready to set, low in the sky, casting an amber hue across the clouds and landscape. As I looked across the parking lot, I saw a man take his daughter’s hand. She looked about 8, and walked in step with him as they made their way to the front of Hospice’s Inpatient Facility. They stopped at the front door, where they met a woman, who was holding the hand of a little boy, a toddler, probably about 3 or so. They all walked in together. I wondered about them – were they visiting grandma or grandpa, spending a little time with her or him on this evening, 12 days before Christmas. Did they talk about what they hoped Santa would bring? Would they get to visit again?
I immediately traveled back in time to a day nine days before Christmas, in 1998, at a nursing home in Washington, PA, where my mother spent the last day of her life after being discharged from the hospital. She had been in and out of the hospital multiple times that year, having many flare-ups of COPD. If I had known anything about what the end of life looked like then, I would have realized that she was there.
My children at the time were 3 ½ and 8. They didn’t really understand exactly why I was traveling so often back to my parents’ home in Pennsylvania. I didn’t do a particularly good job explaining it. As I look back, I realize that I was grieving before her death, recognizing, at least on some level, what was coming.
At the time, I also realized that I had not purchased one item for Christmas for either of them. And it was nine days before Christmas! These were the days of shopping in person, and I knew where the local Toys R Us was located. So on the way from the nursing home where my father and I said our final goodbyes, I made my way to the toy store, grabbing a few things I thought they might like. I didn’t have a list, I didn’t have any ideas, but I knew they’d be happy with what they received. And I knew Mom wouldn’t mind.
I hope the two children that I saw outside my window last week were able to have a good visit with their Nana or Pap Pap on that cold winter evening. I hope they got to hold hands and talk about what they had done in school, what they wanted for Christmas. Because that’s what can happen next door at our Inpatient Facility. Families and children and friends can visit, spend time, share memories.
While my children, now young adults, didn’t get this experience, I know that they still remember. They remember because I tell them stories of their grandparents, what they were like, what was important to them. And I know that I remember, because I see so many of my parents’ traits – a generation later – in my children.
Grief is a strange thing. It can hit us at any time, on any given day. Sometimes it’s like a punch in the gut, sometimes, it’s more subtle, like when we simply look out the window and see children who remind us of our own. Or when we see a cardinal, perched on a tree in our yard. And whether a loss is a week old, a month old, a year old, or 24 years old, the grief can still be very powerful.
Two weeks ago, Hospice of the Panhandle hosted our annual Light Up a Light ceremony, a memorial and honor luminary ceremony that has been held for 36 years. Luminaries lined the sidewalks where we hosted the event, and, in Kearneysville, hundreds of them — each bearing the name of a Nana or Pap, a sister or brother, a friend or a child — also lined Hospice Lane. As I watched family members look for their loved ones’ luminaries, I realized – again – just how important it is to remember, to express not just our grief, but our love for many of those we have lost. It’s powerful.
As I walked over to the porch of the inpatient facility that evening where we hang circles of light, I looked for the names of my parents and my in-laws on their circles. I found the circles, gently moving in the breeze. I remembered how much I love those important people in my life. Still.
During this holiday season, may your memories, like mine, sustain you. The power of love can exist right alongside your grief.
Merry Christmas to all!
Maria Lorensen is the development director of Hospice of the Panhandle, a post she has held for 14 years. To find out how Hospice of the Panhandle or any of our grief support programs can help you or your family, call (304) 264-0406 or visit the website at www.hospiceopt.org