After three years of service, last Sunday was my last day as a hospice volunteer. Over the years I engaged with many people during the last days of their life’s journey. Their life stories made my life story richer, and I will never forget the man who set the bar incredibly high.
One Sunday morning there was a new patient; a man with an inoperable brain tumor. He was in his mid-50s and still appeared healthy, not emancipated like so many patients were, especially those who had undergone chemotherapy. He was a CPA who now needed to be fed oatmeal and drink orange juice from a sippy cup. Medication was helping to alleviate his distress at his accelerating loss of body and mind control. What made this man memorable was the continuous stream of visitors, none of which was family. Every single person in his stream of visitors said the same thing; that they were there to let him know how much he had changed their lives for the better.
This man was a profound contrast to a man who had passed the week before. The week before a man in his late 30’s who had been a patient for several weeks, which was unusual, finally got his wish to die. Diabetes had led to his right leg being amputated just above the knee, and he needed oxygen because of his cigarette-induced emphysema. During the weeks he had been in the palliative unit, he was angry, bitter, and demanding. Despite being diabetic, he insisted on gorging on sugar-laden processed food. Despite his emphysema, he insisted on going outside to smoke. No one visited him, and during his last days he angrily refused food, water, and comfort.
When most people think of a CPA, they think of someone immersed in numbers with an aversion to social activities. My hero CPA broke the mold. He reached a life goal that everyone should strive for; to make a positive difference in so many lives that an endless stream of people come to give thanks and pay their respects when you are on your deathbed. Although I did not give thanks at the time, I will remember him fondly and be grateful to him for changing my life too.