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Angela & The Rainbow Bridge

By: Marie Marley, KCH Volunteer
Published:  March 5, 2024

I read with interest the Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care newsletter’s request for a volunteer to visit a lady living in a nursing facility just three minutes from my home. It said the patient – I’ll call her Angela –  had few visitors and she felt isolated. I called the office immediately and luckily was the first person to ask for the assignment. 

First visit: The next day I went to see Angela, who was bedbound. After I introduced myself, the first thing she said to me was, “I’m lonely.” I took her hand and said, “I live just around the corner and will visit you often.” Normally we visit patients once a week, but I was drawn to Angela and decided I’d see her more often. Little did I know the strength of the bond we’d develop in the short time she had remaining.

She motioned for me to sit, and we had a pleasant chat. Mostly she talked about how much she loved dogs. She described a few of her favorite past dogs, including Winkie, a pug who had passed away many years earlier. She had a large color sketch of Winkie on her dresser, and I moved some items sitting in front of the picture so she could see it better.

Doing things for Angela throughout the time I knew her brought me the greatest pleasure. There were so many things she couldn’t do for herself. I held her water glass while she drank, guiding the straw into her mouth. (She was so weak that without my help she was likely to dump the whole thing on the floor or on herself.) I unwrapped candy and put it in her mouth. I fed her what little she wanted for breakfast. I brushed her hair. I put on – or removed – blankets as needed. I brought her coffee from the kitchen and so many other things. But mostly, I held her hand and listened to her.

Next Visit: Before leaving the house, I grabbed the Chicken Soup for the Soul book of dog stories I’d purchased for Angela. But when I began to read a story – she could no longer hold a book to read – I discovered it dealt with an abused puppy. “Oh, not this one!” I exclaimed. There was no way I was going to read a heart-wrenching story to a dying patient. After three more tries, I finally found a story that was uniformly cheerful. She smiled broadly and winked at me at the end.

Before leaving I closed her closet door, which for some reason the aides always left open. We made a joke of it and giggled when I closed it at every visit. 

Next Visit: I have two Shih Tzus and, since Angela loved dogs so much, I decided to take one to visit. Angela shouted with glee as tiny Christina romped on her chest. When I left, Angela called after me, “I love you.” I turned and peeked around the curtain. “I love you, too,” I said. Angela had just won my heart. 

Next Visit: I’d previously asked Angela what kind of music she liked. I always play music for music-loving patients. It never fails to lift their spirits. She hesitated then answered softly, “Italian opera?” It seemed she expected me to be critical of her musical taste. But, on the contrary, I was delighted. I am an opera buff myself, so I took my portable speaker and we listened to a few arias from Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” She mouthed some of the words and told me she’d sung in the chorus of that opera many years before. My jaw nearly dropped. What an amazing lady!

Next Visit:  After some small talk, Angela told me, “I want to die.” “Why?” I asked. “Lying here in this bed 24 hours a day is no life.” I empathized with her for a while, then asked, “What are your religious views about death?” “I’m going to heaven,” she said. “I’m also going to the rainbow bridge where all the pets I’ve ever owned are going to meet me. They’re waiting for me there now.” She had an enormous smile on her face. When I left, she said, “Thanks for cheering me up.”

Next Visit: During my next visit, Angela was quite groggy with pain medication to help make her comfortable. It was a trade-off – the price dying patients sometimes pay to be pain-free. Molly, a friend of mine, asked, “If she continues being groggy will you still visit?” What a silly question I thought. What was I going to say – “No. I won’t visit because it wouldn’t be entertaining for me?” I answered her, “Yes. I’ll still visit. Even if she’s asleep, I’ll still visit. I’ll visit and sit and hold her hand.”

Next Visit: Angela frowned and sighed. “I’m exhausted,” she said, her voice barely audible. “And I just woke up.” “It’s because of the pain medicine,” I told her. 

She was too weak to lift her arms and she gave mostly one-word responses to everything I told her. Sometimes she just closed her eyes, unable to respond at all. But when I prepared to leave, she said, “I love you.” “I love you, too,” I said, struggling to keep tears at bay. I wondered if those would be the last words she’d ever say to me.

Final Visit: Angela was in a deep sleep, from which I knew she’d probably never awaken. I sat down beside her bed and held her hand. Part of the time I was silent; part of the time I talked to her softly. My chest was tight. Tears slowly dropped onto her quilt. Others splattered onto the bed’s metal railing, leaving tiny puddles here and there. 

When I had myself a little better under control, I said, “It’s a beautiful day, Angela. Birds are pecking at the suet in the feeder outside your window.” I had a lump in my throat, my voice kept breaking and I had to focus mightily to steady it. “The sun is shining on the flowers on your windowsill. We’ll listen to opera again soon.” Talking was so difficult because I was constantly straining not to break down completely. Before I left, I silently closed the closet door, sadly remembering how many times we’d laughed about the aides always leaving it open, then I turned and whispered, “I love you, Angela.”

The call came the next morning. Angela was gone. Gone to greet her darling pets at the rainbow bridge. I smiled through my tears. She had made it.

Marie Marley has been a volunteer patient visitor for Kansas City Hospice since 2019. In 2023 Ingrams Magazine named her a Hero in Healthcare for her volunteer service. Marie is also the author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. Visit her at ComeBackEarlyToday.com.

Kansas City Hospice has many rewarding volunteer opportunities available, including visiting patients. To learn more, please visit KCHospice.org/volunteer

 


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