1. Schneider, Paula RN, MPH, CHPN

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Little did our team know, back in the spring of 2003, when we admitted Miss Gladys to hospice, that we were in for such a challenging yet wonderful experience. Miss Gladys was 101 years old, lived by herself, and had paid caregivers coming in at various times during the day to help prepare meals and provide personal assistance. Oh, and did I mention Gladys was totally blind and extremely hard of hearing?


As the months went on, we became better acquainted with Gladys and realized what a remarkable woman she was. We learned she had traveled the world, bringing back various mementoes of her trips to grace her house. She never had children, and her husband was long deceased. She had been alone for quite some time, except for a male renter who lived in her home about 5 years ago. We discovered that he had not been an asset to her life and, in fact, had left in the middle of the night, taking many of Gladys's valuables with him. She told us the things we now saw in her house were the cheaper items-that he had taken everything he could of real monetary value. Gladys rehearsed this event with anyone who would listen. The event had lodged the loss deep within her soul, and she carried it wherever she went as heavy baggage.


Our team worked together to develop a plan. Each of us would listen to Gladys's story for a minute or two and then we would divert her attention to the positives in her life. These included people she referred to as angels who came to help her every day, her dog and cat who were constant and devoted companions, and the fact that she was still able to live in her own home. Gladys, herself, had identified these special things as the good in her life.


In addition, since my church had a team of helpers (the Circle of Love) who were always on the lookout for opportunities to serve others, I asked Gladys if she would like someone from the Circle of Love to be a telephone buddy for the long evening hours. She thought it was a great idea, and the hospice team concurred. From that beginning, her world of contacts expanded quickly. Church members became more involved, doing not only nighttime phone calls, but bringing her special foods and taking her dog to be groomed. As a Christmas gift, they paid a cleaning service to polish up the house. They came to know and love Gladys as much as the hospice team did.


Slowly, our hospice team began to notice that Gladys spoke of her unhappiness less and less. She brightened up and welcomed our visits, as we helped her focus on the positive and beautiful aspects of her life. Gladys responded so well to our love and caring that she lived many months with a high quality of life.


We said goodbye to Gladys a few weeks ago. She was 102 years old and was ready to go meet her "little angel," a spirit that had appeared to her and spoken with her in a near-death experience 4 years earlier. She died the way she lived-peacefully and quietly, with her precious animal companions by her side. Gladys touched each of our team and the church volunteers with her life and friendship.


I will be looking for Gladys when my time comes to transition. I am sure I will recognize her because she told me if she preceded me in death she would have a golden chair waiting for me on the other side. Yes, Miss Gladys was special, and through meeting her and walking even a short distance with her on the path of life, our team met the challenges and grew in very special ways that will help us care for others along the hospice path.