Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice - Sheboygan, WI

When the New Year May Be the Last

Happy New Year!  January is a month of reflecting and planning.  Since the time of ancient Babylonians people have made New Year’s resolutions to change for the good, to live better.  We make lists, change our diets, begin new fitness programs, and plan for vacations, investments, and new opportunities.  It’s a restless month for most of us.

Imagine trying to make New Year’s resolutions while facing a terminal illness.  How would your priorities change if you knew this year would be your last?

This is a reality for hundreds of our neighbors right now. Perhaps someone in your own family is ill.  Living life to the fullest still matters just as much as it ever has!

I’m not denying that the goals will look different.  There will be more constraints; timelines, energy levels, maybe financial limitations, but terminal illness has a way of helping us focus on what really matters.  Goals may appear more simplistic but be profoundly more meaningful.

Last month I struggled with writing a Christmas card to my husband’s grandmother.  Her husband had just died suddenly. He was her primary caregiver while she was receiving hospice care at home.  She moved into a hospice facility in her hometown a week before Christmas.  As I signed other cards with happy wishes for a great new year, I couldn’t do the same for her, could I?  As I held the pen and thought about her situation I felt helpless. 

Then I considered what I know about life and what I know about hospice.  I thought about Grandma and her positive disposition, her resilience, and her faith.   No doubt she has a fan club at the hospice center by now!  I’ve seen how people bond with their hospice caregivers.  How deep the love can be as people care for each other and learn from each other. 

Grandma has a lot of new adjustments to make, but she’s taking it a day at a time.  We asked her what she needed, what was important to her.  Her answer was simple.  She wanted to call everyone who sent her a Christmas card or sympathy card and personally thank them and she didn’t want to use the hospice long distance service to do it.  So we got her a cell phone.  It’s her first one and she had to learn how to use it. My husband drew an instruction guide to show her which buttons to use to enter a contact, make a call, and end a call.  Grandma has proven that being 89 and on hospice is no excuse to stop learning! She’s also shown us what it means to concentrate on what really matters.  Her new year’s priorities are focusing on adjusting to a new home, learning to use new technology, making new friends and keeping up with the old ones.

I signed the card “Wishing you a Christmas full of warm memories and a new year full of new joys and friendships.”  I wish the same to all of you. 

Angelia Neumann, The Sheboygan Press, January 9, 2015