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PEOPLE I HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED













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After 20 years of visiting cancer patients as a hospice volunteer, I've met a lot of people. Their stories are fascinating and varied, not always as tragic as one might think:
 
(the names are changed)
 
Don said his ex showed up at a family reunion and he hadn't seen her for 60 years. She wanted to get back together!
 
George looked like he'd had a rough life. He said he's not afraid to die because it's got to be better than this life. I said I hear you.
 
Sally keeps the room cold so she will last longer.
 
Jennifer asked me to step out on the porch with her so she could smoke a joint. She offered me some but I told her I quit. I didn't want to deprive her of her medicine.
 
Pat says the nurses put her on a plane to Hawaii each night and she returns in the morning. She has a great time. I asked her which island?
 
Michael was a cut-throat lawyer whose heart cracked open when he faced life-threatening illness. He cried tears of joy.
 
Kim was locked in the padded room at a mental institution after attacking one of the staff. When I met her, she was transformed. I asked her how and she just said one day she had a spiritual realization. She was dead at 21.
 
Sam was a prisoner, chained to his bed. Two guards were keeping watch in the room. He was very open to support and won the hearts of his doctor and all the volunteers who knew him before he died.
 
Rachel went to her last radiation treatment dressed as a hooker with a clown face. She said the staff just stared at her until they realized who it was, and then they cracked up laughing.
 
Susan is bipolar and on the waiting list for a transplant. She knows she may die before her name comes up.
 
Jeanne talks my ear off. She has 10 times the energy I have on the best day of my life.
 
Alan thinks God is punishing him for wrongdoing.
 
Lucy is back for her 3rd different cancer. She acts like I'm her long-lost friend. I barely know her.
 
Ben was totally paralyzed for his last 5 years. He rated his quality of life as good. We used to watch the Super Bowl together.
 
Steve loved fantasy and science fiction. We would talk about Bruce Lee and the latest disaster movies (and the nurses).
 
Beth waited until Father Rick said prayers and her family left. She needed to be alone to die.
 
Lucinda was in my meditation class. We sat together in the most spacious emptiness. She made a piece of jewelry and gave it to her doctor. I asked her if she was afraid... she said yes.
 
Yolanda was in and out of the hospital continually. She always had such uplifting and joyous friends, it was like a revival meeting every time I went in. I told them I feel sanctified by the time I leave. They said you are!
 
Kate said someone slipped her some acid when she was 16 and God spoke to her. At 50 she was still deeply spiritual.
 
Ellen has been in the hospital for months. She is so even-tempered it doesn't even seem to bother her.
 
I went into one room just as the man was dying. His girlfriend was on her knees, sobbing and pleading with him not to die. I'd never seen anything like it. This haunting music was playing - Enya I think. It was like something out of a Hollywood movie. I just sat in silence for a few minutes and she didn't even seem to  notice me. Finally I left quietly. There just didn't seem to be anything I could add to that moment. I took a deep breath and went into the next room. They were watching a football game. I sat down and said who's winning?
 
Leonard is a professional actor. He says actors are born, not made.
 
John says he is going home - to heaven. I can hear it in his voice - a mix of fear, sadness, acceptance. He wishes he had done more for others.
 
Kathryn had little time left. She thought I was The Reaper and that her time had finally come. Maybe I was.
 
Ila was recently diagnosed and still in shock. She said she has rehearsed this moment for years. So have I.
 
Henry is my age. He was in Viet Nam and thinks it may have been Agent Orange that got him.
 
Bonnie is bubbly and happy. She said she is going to discontinue treatments.
 
Edith is very sick and will not likely live long. She is breathtaking in her graciousness and open heart.
 
I have known Anna for over 20 years. She has been on death's door for much of that time. The other day I saw her riding in a nice car with a baseball uniform on.
 
I was leading a workshop at the hospital. One of the men said don't I know you? We finally remembered that I had sat with his wife and family several years before. It was great to reconnect since I rarely see family again once someone dies.
 
Jeanne is a holocaust survivor. She was intense. She said she does not believe in God but is not afraid to die.
 
I have known Linda for the many years she has been in and out of the hospital. She can barely talk but radiates contentment and faith in spite of debilitating pain.
 
Sandra told me she overloaded a washing machine, pushed the start button, and received a vision from God.
 
Heidi was very appreciative of my earlier visits. As she improved she had little interest in talking. It's that way sometimes.
 
Barbara was so sick from treatments she decided it wasn't worth it any more. Then a beautiful bird appeared outside her window and she decided it is worth it after all.
 
Ron had such gratitude each time I saw him, even with a terminal illness. The last time I saw him, he was delusional but still filled with gratitude.
 
Nancy's husband died in the same hospital 3 days ago. Her father came to her in a dream and showed her what heaven is like. She said it's nice.
 
Frank fought in Normandy in World War 2. He was terminal and going into a nursing home. He was Christian and so deeply peaceful without the dogma and obsessiveness I sometimes hear from Christians.
 
Kevin just got out of the ICU. He said he felt ready to die, even as he wanted to live forever. He was extremely peaceful and grateful for his life. He said he was an atheist but the way he said it was so spiritual. I pointed that out to him and we both laughed.
 
Ella was holding the hand of her daughter who was dying. I had seen her there before and thought she was a nun. I said that's the hardest job in the world. She said no, it would be worse if she couldn't be there.
 
Catherine was cheerful but heavily medicated and made no sense at all. We just had a good time talking nonsense. 
 
Kelly is having a hard time. I remind her to breathe. We breathe together for a few moments and she goes deep inside.
 
Teddy was a street brawler growing up in Glasgow. He said you had to be to survive. He showed me scars from a knife, from a glass bottle. It sounded like he got in some good punches too. He was quite a philosopher in spite of that early life.
 
Betty was in a state of grace. She said she was ready to die & so full of gratitude and humility. She was joyous. It was like being with a holy woman.
 
George knew the names of all the singing cowboys' horses. I said OK what about Hopalong Cassidy? He said Topper.
 
and to the silent and seemingly nameless bodies lying in ICU, surrounded by tubes and flashing lights, I don't know if you can hear me, or if you are even in there...may you be at peace...may you be free.