By Connie Zdunich
I had a magical childhood. My “Papa” was a tall, strong man who stood as straight as a tree. He was not well educated, and he had a rather hard life. He was a logger by trade, and harvesting trees in his day was hard work. However, he found his trade rewarding.
I was the first grandchild, and for some unknown reason, Papa decided to call me Sister. He and grandma always lived on acreage in the country. I was a city girl, so spending time at their place was magical. Weekend visits were not easy. Papa would come into my room and wake me early in the morning for chores. I would put on my grandma’s muck boots with newspapers stuffed in the toes so they would stay on my feet, and we would head out the back door, past the huge garden, past long rows of yummy blueberries and raspberries, over the stream bridge, down the path, and into the barn. That is where I first learned to milk “Old Donna” at the ripe old age of five. There’s nothing in the world like fresh milk with cream sitting on top!
This strong man with huge hands taught me how to coax Old Dan, the logging horse, over to the fence with red apples freshly picked off a nearby tree so that I could climb on his broad back and ride him in the pasture, holding tightly to his mane. He also taught me the delight in hauling the garden hose over to the rows of carrots and radishes in the garden, washing the rich earth from their skins, and eating them with a little salt from an old shaker he always seemed to have handy in his shirt pocket. We slopped pigs, chopped firewood, and did all those magical things that are only magical if you do not have to do them daily!
The years came and went, but I never tired of spending time with Papa. Eventually, I grew up and married, and then, along came Papa’s first great-grandchild, whom he called Little Sister. (I did finally get a sister at the age of nine.)
This giant of a man finally grew old. At the ripe old age of ninety-seven, while he was out tilling his garden plot in my aunt’s backyard, he developed a pain in his shoulder. After a few days with no relief, we finally talked him into seeing a doctor. He was not a big fan of doctors. Papa had cancer, and it was not just affecting his shoulder; it had spread into his lungs and liver. Of course, this was the turning point in his life. He did not want to be hospitalized; hospitals were not his favorite either! So, the family decided to put Papa on hospice care. The thought of “strangers” coming to care for him was upsetting, and we were not sure how well things would progress.
Our first Angel arrived to do Papa’s evaluation. Papa was a bit “puffed up” and not at all sure if any of this “care stuff” was a good idea. The hospice worker came in with a smile that could light the world, and she had him totally wrapped around her finger by the time she headed out to her car. He asked when she would be back; he “kinda liked her.”
Then a different kind of magic came into our lives as we were blessed with a succession of Angels, all so willing to serve this giant, gentle man, and he was blessed to learn firsthand about the gift of compassion in all its glory.
We only had four more months with Papa before he took his final journey home to till gardens above. Hospice was our saving grace. Not only did the hospice team render amazing care to my grandfather but they also changed my life forever. The tender care provided by the hospice workers gave me a deep desire to pay forward this gift they gave to Papa.
Now the story has come full circle; the time in my life as come for repayment as I am blessed to be able to be a hospice volunteer. This has been one of the most rewarding times in my life. The sweet people I have had the privilege of serving have blessed my life beyond measure.
If your loved one needs hospice care, don’t wait. It will bless your life and that of your loved one. If you have some time on your hands, become a volunteer. They are always needed, and I promise that you will be blessed beyond measure.