Caring for the Dying

My patients, my work, my faith

Friday afternoon at the hospice center. I punch in and eye the “white board,” looking for empty white strips and unfamiliar names, quickly piecing together who has died, who is still living in this eighteen-bed facility. I start at the bottom of the list, Room 19 (no Room 13 here—these folks have had their fair share of bad luck). Room 19 is the stomping ground of the Delgado family.* Miguelito, five years old, with his bald pate and big eyes, is speeding up and down the hallways in a motorized Big Wheel. His two older sisters will be coming “home” from grade school soon, and his younger sister, Lily, is being her cute, showboat self, hanging out once again at the nurses’ station while mom naps on the extra bed in Miguelito’s room.

In Room 18 is Faye Niesen, whose family complains about the Delgados, then feels badly about complaining, and then complains some more.

In Room 17 is petite Eleanor Kempe with the gimlet eyes and the protruding abdominal tumors that make this eighty-two-year-old look oddly pregnant as she sits and watches Mother Angelica on EWTN. Eleanor keeps a pocketbook tucked just so at her left hip, under the sheets, and Kleenex tucked just so up the right sleeve of her thin bathrobe. Second only to Mother Angelica in Eleanor’s mind is the Food Network’s Emeril, whose trademark exclamation “Bam!” pops out like bullets from at least five or six rooms on the unit, each night....

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About the Author

Mary Lee Freeman, a former Commonweal intern, is a nurse practitioner.