Every other Friday, we will share an excerpt from Stories of Hospice, an inspiring collection of tales from Ontario’s hospice palliative care community. Today’s excerpt, “Unite Them in Love,” was provided by Joan Burnett of Near North Palliative Care Network in North Bay. The full collection is available for purchase as part of our publications library.
In all the training we take as hospice volunteers, one thing is repeated many times. It is the patient’s journey and that they must be allowed and encouraged to choreograph each step. This point was never made clearer to me than in this “Story from our Hospice.”
“Mr. X” was very frail and suffering with the end stages of cancer. His voice was barely audible and we leaned close to hear every word whenever he tried to speak. One day, his nurse called Hospice with his request. He wanted to marry his companion of 25 years. He was much too frail to obtain the legal license required for an ordained minister to perform the ceremony, but was adamant about wanting to get married before he died. As a final solution, it was agreed that I would create a ceremony to “unite them in love”. The time was set for 9:30 AM the following day.
Around 7:00 PM, the evening before the ceremony, I received a call from his nurse. “Well,” she said, “it is all set up for tomorrow morning. I had a heck of a time making him understand that it is tomorrow morning though. He kept saying, ’9:30 tonight’ and I kept on telling him, ‘No, it is 9:30 tomorrow morning.’” “Oh dear,” I said. “He is telling us he is going to die before morning. We have to do it tonight.”
His nurse agreed to stay at his home and I gathered the note I had written up and met her there. We gathered around his bed and I read the ceremony while he and his partner held hands. When his turn came, he said, “I do” so loudly that none of us had any trouble hearing him.
We visited for a while and then went home. The next day his nurse called me to say he had died at 10:30 in the morning. To this day, I believe he knew he was going to die and I am so grateful that we had heard him and responded.