Here is Jacques Sirois’ story on hospice, death, and the sacred words, “I love you,” and “goodbye.” Told at February’s Tenx9 event. 

Michael sent me a text yesterday asking me what my story was about? I answered: “Death, ask me no more questions.” His reply was “ OK..”

My favorite movie in 2013 was “The Book Thief” in which I fell in love with a character that you never see but only hear his voice, his name was Death.

In 1955 there was a song written for a movie with the same name and was last recorded by Ringo Starr in 1998 on his album called “Sentimental Journey”, the title of the song was “Love is a many Splendored Things”.

Let me combine these two facts and tell you about my love story and what it has to do with death.

My love story starts my involvement with Hospice, an organization I have been a part of for the past 14 years. It’s a love story not of watching someone die, but the privilege of being on sacred ground when you’re in the room with a love one as they pass.

It all began in 1982 when my father lost both his legs due to diabetes leaving him wheelchair bound and depending on my mother and myself to aid him with some basic tasks such as dressing, bathing, and turning around in bed during the night.

Growing up, my relationship with my father was not the greatest and things like hugs and saying I love you was not a part of everyday life in my household.

After losing his leg and having to depend on me more and more, my father taught me to  how to say “I love you” and he made sure to say it every time  I assisted him in the simplest task that he was not able to do alone.

One night in March of 1985, my father had a bad cold and I was awaken hearing him cough. I went downstair to see if he needed anything and he said my mother already gave him cough medicine, he felt tired and most likely would fall asleep soon. As I proceeded up the stairs, he called out my name and when I respond he told me that he loved me. Those were his last words he spoke , he died that night. 29 years later I still hear his saying those precious word like it happened this afternoon. I believe hearing those simple yet powerful words that night, was the best THANK YOU for my years of service to my father.

In 2000 I became a volunteer for Hospice, a position  I feel honored to hold to this day. Hospice has taught me not to be afraid of death and to be that helping hand with family members as they participate in the dying process.

A couple of years after my father’s death, unbeknown to me, my mother invited her sister to come and live with us. It started off good but in a short period of time it turned sour and I was stuck in the middle, my aunt had no other place to go. This woman was not a happy person which could make being in the same house with her very uncomfortable.

My aunt was 90 yrs. old and in great health,but one morning while turning off the stove her nightgown caught on fire. She had a bathrobe over the nightgown and the flame smoldered up her arm and down her back until my mother threw water on her to put out the fire. I was with her the day before she died.

She woke up long enough to tell me that she was afraid that she would not go to heaven. I asked her if I could pray with her to put her mind to ease, which she agreed and I could sense a peace that came over her. I not only prayed for her, I forgave her and I said goodbye let her know that I was going to be there for her until she passed on. She died the next morning and there was a sense of peace as she passed..

The sad part was my aunt was a widow, had no children an had 3 sister that live in the area, my mother was in the same hospital at the time and would not come up to see her. I have always felt that my mother and her sisters were never at peace with Aunt Julie’s death and a lot of it had to do with the fact they never forgave her and never said goodbye.

In 2008, at the age of 94, my mother had a stroke and was in rehab for 2 months. During her time in rehab she fought hard to get better so she could come home, I believe she worked hard so she could come home and die. She lasted 4 day after coming home.

Less than 24 hours before I realize she was dying, I called all 12 of my sibling telling them they better come home. It was then that my years of Hospice work kicked in fast. I not only made sure my mother knew she was not alone, but was able to teach my sibling the importance of saying goodbye, something none of us had a chance to do for our father.

One stipulation we established , was if anyone wanted to be alone with our mother, everyone had to leave the room out of respect  for that sacred time with her. Some sat and held her hand, others prayed with her, one of my sister actually climbed into bed to be with her. I imagine some asked for forgiveness and forgave her.

The privilege I experience was the one time I was alone with her. She opened her eyes and said thank you for taken care of her for 32 years and that she loved me. Again I was the last one in the family to hear the final words “I love you” from each of my parents. What a gift!

When my mother died there were 10 of her 13 children in the room. Two massaging her hands and 2 massaging her feet. Each one of us felt the loss in our lives, but that day  we all remember the love that filled the room. A side note: my mother died in the same room she was born in 94 years earlier

My last love story with death happen in November of last year. My brother, who just turned 67, had a stroke , fallen and not found until 6 hours later. He had fluid built up around his brain.

His children made difficult decision collectively to take him off life support, knowing that was a decision he had discussed with his sons before any of this happened.

No knowing for sure if I would make it home in time to see my, I called my nephew while he was in the hospital room with his father and asked if he would put the phone to my brother ear so I could talk to him. Hearing is the last thing to go in the dying process.

I told him goodbye, that I loved him, I asked for forgiveness for anything might between us, lastly I told him it was ok to die.

Once my sibling heard what I did, each of one that lived a distance  away, took the time to call to say goodbye and that they loved him. Those that lived in the area made sure to say those precious words every time the entered or left the room

An important lesson I learned from Hospice  was to always make sure to say  goodbye when we have the chance. I believe that saying goodbye and making peace with a loved one takes the sting out of death.

A quote from Martin Heidegger :“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life- and only then will I be free to become myself”.

So yes, Love can be a many Splendored thing, even in death.

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