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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Lots to learn about life at Hospice House

It had been a long time since I’d seen Room 110.

In fact, it was 13 years, three months and seven days.

But on Christmas morning, there I was, standing in front of the room where my dad died at 2:50 p.m. on Sept. 18, 1998.

Until we came upon it, I wasn’t quite sure which one it was. But, when I saw the children’s playroom at the end of the hall, I knew I was on the right track.

Walking up to the nurse’s station, which was right across the hall, was the clincher, though.

I remember running up to it, asking for help when my dad started taking his last breaths.

Hospice House hasn’t changed a lot since then.

It’s still quiet, still a place of comfort and still offers a lot of lessons for the living.

I got one when I decided to tag along with Santa during his visit Christmas morning with the patients at the Cleveland facility now known as the David Simpson Hospice House.

Bill Jindra is a legend at Hospice House, because of the many years he’s been reminding the patients that someone cares, especially at Christmas.

Jindra’s family has been conducting these visits to Cleveland-area hospitals for 95 years now, and there are no plans to stop.

Jindra was surprised when I told him they’re at nearly 100 years. He took it in stride, as though he was too busy concentrating on his mission to care about such statistics.

But in a world where numbers are the measure of a man, 95 is a pretty good one to be associated with.
Jindra’s crew, which includes friends and their family members, wouldn’t consider starting their Christmas any other way.

They disregard the sadness you know they’re feeling because they’re pretty sure that this is almost surely the patients’ last Christmas. What matters is now, and, right now, they’re smiling, shaking hands and wishing them a happy holiday.

They don’t go where they’re not wanted. They’ll come back later if they’re asked.

But when they’re with a patient, no one else matters. Eyes meet, smiles form and laughter ensues.
Sometimes the laughter is because of the unexpected.

Take 88-year-old Mary Dan.

When a Hospice staffer asked if she minded that our photographer come in and take some photos, Dan lit up.

“Who the hell cares?”

She had seen the big man in the hallway and figured it was a way to get him inside a little quicker.

Dan shared her background with Santa and showed him how much she appreciated his visit, reaching down to kiss his hand as it shook hers.

In a quiet moment after Santa headed off to see the next patient, Dan gave me a little advice.
“What you don’t use, you lose,” she said. “If someone does something good for you, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”

I’ve been thinking about her a lot over the past week. The spunky Romanian native laughs easily, sharing her memories and wishes with anyone who’ll listen.

I’m just glad I was paying attention on Christmas morning.

As I walked out of Dan’s room and made my way past No. 110, I peeked in the door. The double room was empty, but I couldn’t see the side of the room my dad occupied during his time there.

I’d always dreaded my inevitable return to Hospice House, fearing the tears I shed when I left would return as I passed through the entrance.

I’ll admit I did shed a few. But, this time, as I was leaving, Dan’s words were still rolling around in my head.

As the year comes to a close and we, as usual, begin those thoughts of renewal that each new year brings, I realize Dan was telling me to believe in myself and do what I do, because I know how to do it.

Be true to myself, and it’ll all work out.

As it turns out, there was a little life just down the hall from where my dad’s ended.
Twitter: @Lauranh


Anonymous Goldie Snider Adcox said...

Wonerful story. Thank you. I'm reading this from Williamston, SC. Happy New Year to you and yours.

December 30, 2011 at 8:14 AM 

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