Death is nothing more than a doorway, something you walk through.
- Dr. George Ritchie
Very often, husbands and wives coming to us for care in hospice programs are in their 80s or 90s. Very often, too, they are each others’ caregivers, as family members have already died or live far away.
It is always a great challenge for the hospice staff when they meet couples together all their lives and now, very often, dying together. The kindness, concern and compassion between these couples are heart stopping, and the delicacy of hospice involvement needs much thoughtful and tender attention.
Anna and Warren were one such couple. They had been married for 68 years, had two sons, one of whom had died during World War II and the other of whom was in a nursing home more than 2,000 miles away following a severe stroke. They had worked hard all their lives, raised their children, ran a business together until they no longer could and now were caring for each other in their last years.
Anna was 90, had had rheumatic fever as a child and was delicate all her life; now she was just weary, sleeping most of the time. She did not have a disease per se, just a “worn out” body, as she would say and ready to go home to heaven. Warren was 92 and in the last stages of lung disease, on oxygen most of the time. They spoke together often of their circumstances and had no trouble expressing their desire to go home to the God who had given them life to begin with. “When I know she is safe in heaven, I will leave too,” Warren often said. Hospice nurses have seen this often enough to know that it was true.
Anna began to sleep more and more, requiring less attention from Warren, and they could often be seen napping in their bed together when I came by for a visit. Then one day, Anna just didn’t wake up and Warren knew that he had kept his promise to be with her until the end. As the hospice nurse, I knew that he now felt free enough to leave too, and after all the arrangements were made, Warren took to his bed, resting peacefully, eating very little and unafraid.
We stayed in close touch by phone and I visited him often but knew that one day I just might stop by to find him already in heaven. When he did not answer my phone call early one morning, I stopped by to see him. I arrived just as he was awake enough to take my hand and squeeze it, smile and then leave. I was grateful to God that he now had the two of them together in heaven with Him. And I was so grateful to have known them.