By Claudia Edge
I was working hard in my backyard garden one afternoon, heaving rocks and bags of dirt and mulch, I was creating a beautiful spot to sit and appreciate in my down time. Problem is, there never seemed to be enough down time. When I did have down time, well, I was working hard to create ‘the spot’ I would someday have enough time to really appreciate. This query of fleeting time is nothing new, we have all wished for more of it as we begin to notice the sand in the hourglass running out.

Now at 57 years of age I look around at the beautiful garden I have spent years and untold hours creating for myself, mostly to be seen by myself. As I stood marveling at it, catching my breath and wiping the sweat from my brow, I heard something, it was a whisper in my left ear. I turned to look, but there was no one else around, I was alone in my garden but as clear as a bell I heard it, a voice. It was soft and gentle enough to be called a whisper, but its sound carried weight, it was audible, and it was meant for me. I touched my ear immediately upon hearing it’s rendering of one word, “SERVICE” was all that was said, but that one word spoke volumes. I knew the voice was of a helper, a guide, a teacher, a friend. I was working hard out there by myself, for myself, and it was time to make some changes in my life.
And so I did, I made those changes. It was not an instantaneous transition, I thought long and hard about what exactly the voice could have meant, and what it wanted me to do, and yah I kind of reveled in the thought that I had indeed heard a ‘voice’ I mean WOW me? I’m just ordinary me, but indeed I did, and I knew that I did have something to offer.
Over the next few weeks I tallied up my best attributes and talents, and understandings, and then I went on a hike. The day was beautiful and the trail a perfect place for my mind to wander, and so I let it. At one point, I met a group of women, who had stopped for a water break. We struck up a conversation and they invited me to join them. They told me they were nurses on their day off and I found myself confessing that I had always wanted to go into that profession. I was sincere, I have always admired those who give care to the sick or injured, but one nurse did not let my confession end there, she asked why I never did, and after I gave a brief life synapses she said “why not go for it now? What’s holding you back?” She continued to push me, a little past my comfort zone, I was now feeling like I was having to defend myself, but you know, I’m glad she continued to push me, she wasn’t going to let me get away with claiming it was now my age, or health or time or money issues, she seemed to have an answer to any and all of my self imposed limitations. By the time I was finished with my hike that day, I had made up my mind to get online and do some inquires for volunteer service, and by the end of the evening I had made Hospice ‘end of life service’ my choice.

I have been studying near death experiences for years, and was comfortable in talking about the afterlife, and after 6 weeks of training, I was set up on the ‘unit’ on the 6th floor of the hospital on Wednesdays. It was called ‘the bridge’ and it didn’t take long to understand the meaning of bridge, the between, the in-between, neither here nor there yet kind of in-between.
It is the most sacred of times, those days and hours as a life evaporates, each labored breath exhaled holds weight and girth and calories, it’s heat, contains the moisture of love and pain, anger and
happiness. Thought slips into the air around the head of the dying, their childhood, marriage, children, work or studies, a lifetime of achievement or of regrets all there, like a deck of cards that was dealt, and played, hanging there in the air above them, as pharmaceutical sleep invades their last bits of time.
I find myself here on the bridge, with three things, a clipboard containing the patients name and the ailment that is now winning the battle, a book of beautiful poetic words to share of the wonder of what is to come on the other side, and an angel on my shoulder. My angel guides me to the room that most needs me that day, I walk down the hall until compelled to stop. I slowly open the curtain around the bed, concerned of intruding on the last bit of privacy this patient has, I introduce myself, and ask if I may stay for awhile with them. This this is an honor to share this space and time and I treat it as such. I sit and hold a hand, and share a soft and caring word or two with a grieving family. I patiently wait for those moments between sleep, when I can offer a little water or a smile and pat on the hand, many times gaining enough trust to explore fears and regrets and share memories. I use this time to pull down one of those dancing cards from the deck overhead for a closer look, an examination, perhaps a good talk and maybe even a chance to put a troubling card to rest for good. This job is the hardest and most rewarding I have ever had. I can tell you that I always get more than I could ever give, and it is true, each life is a story unto itself, and so each ending is different as well.
Although I have been witness to many experiences from the other side at this time of crossing, there are two that have really stuck out in my mind and would like to share them here.
The Sisters are here!
The first is not my own, though I have been given permission to share it. During my training on the unit, I spent time with a seasoned volunteer, named Nancy. She shared her experience of sitting with a woman named Mabel, who very close to crossing. She was actually quite lucid and able to speak, and as they talked, a beautiful warm smile came across her face and she seemed to gaze right passed Nancy. Nancy turned around to look to her side and behind her and saw no one else there, and asked the woman in kind of a silly and fun undertone, “What are you lookin’ at Mabel?” It took her a minute to reply, her gaze still fixed, and with an excitement in her voice she said “The Sisters are here!” Nancy looked around the room again and saw nothing there, and questioned Mabel, “Your sisters are here with us now?” “Oh yes” she said, “three sisters, two of them are mine, but one of them is yours,” This exclamation caught Nancy off guard, leaving Mabel time to continue…. “Catherine is here with my Sisters!” Now Nancy could hardly contain her composure, and a question surfaced, how did this patient she had never met or spoken to before know that she had a sister named Catherine, whom had indeed passed many years ago? So many emotions running through Nancy now, her sister was there now? Really she thought? Nancy asked “What is she doing? Is she saying anything?” Oh how could this be? Mabel now tiring started to settle back down, her eyelids getting heavy, but just before she closed her eyes she answered……..” She’s smiling at you.”
I am walking down the hall of the unit, I read off the names of the patients there and their room numbers, and continue walking until I feel a nudge to stop, Today it is front of ‘Harold’s’ room.
Harold is an older gentleman, maybe only in his 60’s, but now so skinny and frail, I do not think he weighed 70 lbs.

As I enter, his arms are flailing about in the air, he is distressed, this is normal as one grows close to the end, but he is mumbling and I believe he is asking for water. I find a lollypop sponge, just wet enough to moisten the lips and mouth, this is about all a patient in this state can handle, and I repeat this act of dipping the sponge into water and let putting it into his mouth, it is a comfort and I do it as lovingly and mindfully as possible, but his thirst would not be quenched, and I then filled a straw with water and held it for him, his mouth reaching for the straw, his lips surrounding the straw almost like a baby bird, and then I lift my finger from the straw, releasing the water onto his dry tongue, and I repeated this several times. As his eyes became more vivid, his arms move, his hands signaling more, more, more!  His thirst seemingly unquenchable.

As I sat next to him his continued distress was his sheets, he did not want them, even the weight of sheets is a discomfort at this time, and he continued to pull at them, exposing his frail little body, covered with bruises, Harold had had many blood transfusions, his legs almost a deep navy blue, a solid bruise from the knees down, his body showed the scars of the long intense battle he had been fighting, and was soon to finally surrender.
I kept talking to him, his words were inaudible, he was softly mumbling, and I talked on and on for both of us. I asked him if he would like me to read to him, I chose a book I read a lot to my male patients, it is by David Bennett called Voyage of Purpose, about David’s actual drowning incident during a storm as he worked as a naval engineer. He was tossed from a zodiac boat, drowned and then returned from the dead. It is a beautiful accounting of the life after life, a comfort for many patients on this path and facing their inevitable adventure to come. I held Harold’s hand as I read, he was calming down.

After awhile Harold’s family entered the room, his wife and daughter introduced themselves and asked me if I would continue to read. I noticed they took a stance across the room, I felt that they were there, but not really connected, though they smiled at me as I read. Harold was staring at the ceiling and continued to mumble something, I so wished I could understand his words.
As the time passed with me still there and his family holding back, I tried to engage them, I asked whom Harold might be speaking to, his parents, or siblings passed? “Both” they said. I engaged them further, “Have you told him it would be alright for him to go? Will you be alright?” The daughter spoke up about the grandchildren already having said their goodbyes. Her answer left me with the feeling I needed to dig deeper,” “Can you think anything between you all that has been left unsaid?” A strange look came upon both of their faces, and silence……. After a few awkward moments, the daughter stood, and brought over a picture of a much younger man in uniform. Attached to the frame were many medals, I do not understand all of the ranks, but clearly this was a highly decorated serviceman, a lifetime of achievements secured there in the glass, but a room full of distant relations. As I looked at his ribbons and metal accommodations I said “wow, quite an achiever”, and “wow many years of service here” His daughter almost snorted at that, “yah I guess, he was a real mans man, type A personality, a real gotta get it done and MY WAY kind of guy!” The tone of her voice spoke volumes, there was clearly a riff between father and daughter, the Mother caught in the middle of the two for all of these years, and I saw her painfully looking on as the daughter again took a seat across the room.
I sat quietly for a moment summing up the situation, and Harold began to try to speak again, the inaudible mumblings as he stared ahead of him. He reached for my hand and I found myself looking to where he was looking, I wanted to see what he was seeing, but the veil was lifting only for him. A few moments later Harold let go of my hand, his arm outstretched his hand balled into a fist, he began to knock in the air before him, KNOCK KNOCK……KNOCK KNOCK…..it was a poignant beautiful moment and tears began to roll down all of our cheeks. We silently watched on, and after several attempts he dropped his arm in frustration, and then I spoke up “I hope you do not mind me saying this, but clearly Harold is still fighting with all of his might. What is left of his frail little body is still holding on, though it seems it is long past time to go. I’m going to leave you now, but before I do I would like to tell you that if there are words that need to be said, if you are holding anything back, I feel strongly that he can hear you. If you need to yell or talk of disappointments in him, it will be better to speak now than not, and regretting it later. Know that as he is seeing into the future on the other side, he can see his faults and misgivings, in his rambling he could be asking for the forgiveness that is only yours to give. Talk to him now, and settle the score, if only just to make yourself feel better after this day is over,” and with that I took Harold’s hand for a final squeeze, and smiled at his family and took my leave.
It had been a long day, I was too tired to cook, and my husband took me out to dinner. Although I try not to take much of this work home with me, I thought of Harold during dinner, wondering if he had indeed passed on and mentioned this concern to my husband.

Later that evening as I readied myself for bed, I thought of him again, and as I lay there in the dark, I received a flash, a bright and brilliant vision as clear as day. It was of a man in a wheelchair being wheeled outdoors, he was leaving the hospital, I knew it was Harold sitting in that wheelchair, he was dressed in full uniform, he looked almost 100 lbs heavier, and so much better! I knew then that he had passed on, and I said aloud “Oh Harold!” Genuinely happy for him now, and his continuing adventure, I brightly smiled at the sight of him, he smiled back at me, and with that he raised two fingers to his capped head, as in a form of salute, of thank you and goodbye.

The vision flashing before my eyes of a man I barely knew, but we had shared more than just time. I began to cry at the kindness he showed me, to let me know he was passing on, leaving the hospital, he was getting better, although the legs were going to take a little more time, he was OK, perhaps even leaving with a lighter heart, after receiving and accepting forgiveness. THANK YOU AND GOODBYE! Goodbye for now Harold as you begin your forever journey, thank you for your kindness in return, I wish you well my friend.
These two stories are only a smattering of the precious moments of wonder that I have been witness to as a Hospice Volunteer.
I will forever be in gratitude to the pushy nurse who insighted me enough to search the internet and make that first phone call, and above all, to the whispered voice, who cared enough of me to say something before the sand in my own hourglass fell short, a word that would forever change my life, one simple word, SERVICE.

Claudia Edge

Claudia Edge

Claudia is a Real Estate agent in Colorado and a Volunteer Hospice Worker but favorite job is being a Grandma!
Claudia Edge

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