Kay, a widowed woman with Parkinson’s, no longer wanted to eat.
Moved into a nursing home by her daughter-in-law, she felt alone in the world. She felt forgotten by everyone. She was so sad she couldn’t even swallow. The very idea of eating was too much for her. Isolated in her silent sadness, she was simply waiting for death. This was when I received the call from Jenny, the hospice volunteer coordinator, asking if I’d be able to spend time Kay.
When I meet the woman who no longer wants to eat, I take a seat beside her bed and get her to talk to me, getting to know her a little bit. In a faint voice, she tells me about her husband, her two sons, and her daughter-in-law – how they are too busy to look after her.
No one comes to visit. They haven’t even made it by to bring her nightgowns – she is wearing a hospital gown provided by the nursing home. True, she has an illness, but in this case, she is weak and exhausted because she cannot manage to stomach her reality – she is alone. She cannot eat because she is soul sad – isolated, without nurturing and affection.
Kay’s story is not an uncommon one. The elderly are often forgotten in nursing homes, the children, the outcasts, the maladjusted, and the dying get neglected. My role as a hospice volunteer is simply to make patients feel a little better.
Learning that she likes ice cream (and that her doctor will allow it), I ask, “How would you like a milkshake?” It’s a strange idea to give a dying woman a shake – but it works, and with every sip of her milkshake, ever so slowly some color, voice, and life return.
The milkshake solution was simple – give a woman who is finding it hard to eat a tasty, easily ingested food, and it will provide her with a quick lift. This explanation is only part of the picture.
After three visits with Kay, I received the news from Jenny that she had made such improvement she was being taken off hospice care and would be moving from the nursing home to an assisted living center. When I asked Jenny what she thought made the difference, she said, “Kindness. The milkshake solution came to you because you saw that Kay needed more than food. She needed warmth and care, and you gave that to her.”
I had taken Kay to heart. I had seen that she needed not only food but friendship – what all of us need, just as we need oxygen. For me, it was a simple act of kindness. For her, it was life-affirming, and she left hospice, letting everyone know that she wanted to fight for herself, for the rest of her life.
Everyone wants to be heard – treated with warmth and friendliness, understood, and nourished.
Kindness? It may strike some as absurd, especially in these times, to even approach the subject: our world full of fear, violence, social injustice, a polarized political climate, a global health crisis, and devastation. And yet, life goes on precisely because we are kind to one another.
Kindness is the portal to a world of untapped human potential.
In gratitude + best care,