• Rhyena Halpern

The Gift of A Good Death


Photo by Public Domain Pictures by Pixaby


I saw my hospice patient each Thursday for 13 months. The first time was day after she turned 80 and the last time was just a month after she turned 81. That’s about 52 times that I got to be around her. She lived with exceptional grace and faith with Parkinson’s disease. Then she died, peacefully and comfortably, exiting this life with ease.


I got to know her unemcumbered self. There was no extra stuff weighing her down; she was all about giving and receiving love. Her ego had been eradicated by the disease and she existed with a lovely equanimity, accepting every moment and every encroachment by the disease, with grace and faith.


She didn’t resist or try to fight Parkinson’s. She had been a nurse. She knew what was coming and she let herself enter it. The disease showed her no mercy; she showed it faith. When I kissed her hello and asked her how she was, she always told me she was doing better. She always said she was at peace, comfortable, happy, except for the few times when she felt lonely or in pain.


Early on, she loved to be outside and walk in the gardens. It turned out we had both lived in the same state 3000 miles away for many years. We talked about our lives on each coast. I met some of her wonderful sisters and nieces. We drew with colored pencils and markers I brought.We played Tic Tack Toe and Hangman. She prided herself on never losing at Hangman, no matter how long she took to guess the letters.


As time went by, she became more wheelchair bound and then bed bound. She stilled loved being wheeled to the garden. She enjoyed watching old movies on TV. She could not chew and relied on pureed food and then only liquid nutrition. Her body grew more rigid as Parkinson’s seized control of her muscles. Parkinson’s stretched over every inch of her body, freezing her movement and expression, and yet she maintained mental control. She could communicate if she was hungry or not; if she wanted to be in bed or outside; the year she was born and married; when her beloved son was coming to visit again and how her grandkids were.


The majority of patients who use hospice do so for under a month, and most of those for under a week. I got to be with her for 13 months. I got to sit with her bedside, hold her hand, wipe her brow. Her speech became very limited and mostly confined to saying yes or no. One time, while she was sleeping, she broke out in song. She sang clearly and effusively “Take me out to the Ballgame” six times in her sleep. I laughed so much that she woke up and we had a good chuckle.


When I left her at the end of each visit, I always told her I loved her. She always told me she loved me very much. She made me happy and calm and grateful for each moment. She was a gift. Her memory is a blessing.


Third Act Coaching

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office: San Francisco Bay Area       rhyhalpern@thirdactcoaching.org

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(650) 517-3850