Sometimes it is hard to explain why we do what we do. We sometimes say it is an amazing gift to travel side-by-side someone who is traveling their end-of-life journey. I had the pleasure of meeting Ruby (name changed for privacy), a sweet lady who loved her earrings and lipstick! She had a positive, loving spirit about her. She was slightly confused, and her heart was getting weaker. Her family reached out to us for hospice services. I remember leaving that admission smiling knowing this special fire cracker was going to have a special place in every team member’s heart. As time went on, Ruby’s heart, although weak and slow, continued to keep Ruby spunky, even though her dementia was getting worse. She enjoyed time with family, facility activities, (especially ball games) and church. At each care plan meeting there was always a funny, heartwarming story shared about Ruby. She became a member of our Heart ‘n Home family. We built trust and relationships with her family by having honest conversations and emotional support.
Then the e-mail came out. Ruby was on ‘angel alert.’ This alerts the team to increase visits and coordinate shifts of 11th Hour Volunteers. If our patients want us there at the time of death, we work hard to make that happen. It was important to our team to be there for Ruby as her two daughters were unable to be with her. I was the On-call Nurse that night. My plan was to check in on her about 5:00 a.m., but I woke up around 1:00 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. So I decided to shower and go see Ruby. When I arrived, she was peaceful. I grabbed her favorite lotion, rubbed it on her arms, applied a little blush and lipstick, and talked to her. I read a few messages staff had sent me that would not be able to say goodbye to her. Her breathing changed. One of her Nurse’s always opened the window right before a patient passes. I knew she would want me to do it for Ruby. Once the window opened a red bird flew by singing an amazing song. La Pine in December at 3:00 a.m. is not a normal time to see a bird and a bright red bird at that! Right after that a cat showed up. It looked like a cat, but didn’t act like a cat. It looked just like the stuffed cat that was on Ruby’s bed. I looked at Ruby and she stopped breathing, peacefully gaining her angel wings. The bird flew the other direction, that same red bird singing a song. It sounded like a happy whistle. I watched the cat nod, walk backwards, and disappear. Then I made the call a Hospice Nurse always hates to make – notifying the family. To my surprise, the phone call went very well. They were so glad we were there for Ruby … it gave her daughters peace. I also shared my experience with their mom.
A week later they called me. They thanked me for sharing their mom’s journey with them. It brought them peace. They believe the red bird was their dad. They remembered he played for the Cardinals baseball team. Ruby’s favorite picture was him in his uniform with that red bird on it. He did not sing … he whistled songs all the time, especially if he was happy. They believe that cat was Ruby’s mom who died when she was very young. She was known to love cats.
This is why we do what we do. Each person deserves their own end-of-life journey. Each in its amazing way is unique to them! Some are not always peaceful. I cherish my fire alarm and skunk journeys my patients take me on, too! All capture a piece of our hearts.
Diana Hergenrader, RN
Heart ‘n Home Hospice & Palliative Care – La Pine