"I'm Going to die" he said. It was the first time I had ever met him and I knew from his medical history that his illness was terminal. I didn't knowi if he was telling me this to try to see if I would deny his claim that his life was ending or validate it.
Knowing the grieving process, I assumed he was waffling between acceptance, anger and perhaps even denial.
Many of my patients had said this same thing to me before. I was prepared with my standard answer - "How do you feel about that? I wanted to see if I could get him to talk about his feelings.
He changed the subject and then we talked about what type of work he had done throughout his life. He told me that his son and his wife had pre-deceased him and, like so many other of my patients he was pretty much alone in the world.
I would go to see him every Saturday and Sunday and sit with him for a while. There were other people who would come from Hospice to stay with him during the week.
We would watch football (not one of my favorite sports), and I eventually grew to enjoy wathching t games and see how animated he would get when his team was winning.
Every time I went to his home, the first ting he would say to me was "I'm going to die, you know!". I would encourage him to talk about his feelings but he still managed to keep them bottled up inside.
After several weeks (on one of my regularly scheduled visits) I realized that he had not started out our conversation with ""I'm going to die". I was pleased that he seeemed to be in acceptance of the fact that his days on earth were almost over.
We watched a football game and had a nice visit. When it came time for me to leave he asked me if I would stay "just a little longer", there was something he wanted to ask me. Naturally I agreed to stay as I could sxee there was something that was very important to him, that he wanted to discuss with me.
To the best of my recollection, I will try to contemporize what he said to me:
"George, you know that I have no family left and God knows that I have no friends who want to spend any time with me. No one wants to be around someone who is dying. They never know what to say and they feel uncomfortable. You have become the only "friend" that I can truly rely on".
I started to thank him for his kind remarks but he interrupted me.
He said "Do you remember how I used to tell you that I was going to die?" I answered "Yes" and he continued.
"I am going to die. I have already paid for my cremation and disposition of my ashes. I have made piece with myself and with God. I am no longer afraid of dying. There is one thing that still troubles me. You can call it false pride but I don't want to go out of this world the same way that the trash is taken out. I have a really nice suit in the closet and a nice shirt and tie. After I die, and before they take me out of my home, I want to be dressed nicely and well groomed. The people from the funeral parlor told me that they would accomodate my wishes but, right now, you are the only earthly person that I trust."
"Before I die I want to leave instructions that you are to be called when I pass. I want you to come to my home and dress me in that suit and tie. Comb my haiir (what's left of it) and make sure I don't go out like the trash."
Approximatelyt one week later I got a call from the nurse to tell me that he had passed in his sleep. It was approximately 8:30AM when I got the call so I canceled my appointments for the morning. I knew that I had a mission and it was to ensure that this person would have one last moment of dignity..
I drove to his home. When I got there the people from the funeral home were there to retrieve his body. I took them aside and explained to them about the suit and tie. I retrieved his clothes from the closet, dressed him, combed his hair and then let them take his body away.
He left his home looking like a businessman going off to an important meeting. Perhaps he was going to an important meeting! I was certain that, if he could see me, he would know that he truly did have a "friend" who cared about him and his wish to be treated with dignity. I also knew that he would stand proud at whatever meeting awaited him after his death!
I still watch football and have become rather fanatical about it. I still find myself wondering about my "friend" and I wonder if he thinks about me, and the promise I kept.
GEORGE J PETRIE
LONGBOAT KEY, FLORIDA