A comfortable room to say good-bye
VAIL – A couple of weeks ago I was asked to cover the opening of the Maxine Miller Hospice Room at the Vail Valley Medical Center. I showed up at the wrong place and missed the event. I believe there’s a reason why things happen.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon holding the hand of a friend as she lay dying. She is the first to be in that room. I guess I was meant to be there for a purpose, not just for a social event. What a difference it made to me.I’m amazed at how life gives you a bump run when you expect a groomed trail. When you get to the bottom, you look up and think that, despite the turn of events, how much you learned. That’s how it was for me in that room.
I’ve never been next to someone who was on the very last trail of her life. I was frightened, curious and astonished as I sat by her side, across the bed from another friend, as we stroked her hand and murmured consoling words as she rested, seemingly oblivious to our voices. Somehow, I’m sure she heard all that was said. Her skin was taut and yellowish, conforming to each bone in her face, lips dry, eyelids half covering her once sparkling brown eyes like a waning moon. Each breath seemed tortuous, followed by seconds of peaceful silence as we anxiously waited to see if another would follow.We come into this life alone. We leave alone. And all I can do for her is croon gently, rub her hands and touch her forehead, as a mother cares for her infant. All has been said, all has been done. There is nothing more.Please, make this easier for her. Make this easier for her husband. Make this easier for her friends.No one said ‘no’This room in which she lies is named after Maxine Miller, who passed away from cancer in September 2004. She was an amazing athlete and world traveler. Friends would gather in her home for music, laughter, witty conversation and wonderful cooking. She was an artist, a musician, and a loving and caring friend. She played a fierce game of scrabble. She had a smile that would urge anyone to smile back. Over 100 friends, spearheaded by Maxine’s longtime friends Darlene Daugherty and Barbara Allen, donated to create this room. It’s a hospital room but also much more. To date, approximately $77,000 has been raised. Fundraising beyond the cost of the room is being utilized to assist the Vail Valley Medical Center expand private duty nursing and to provide educational funds for their nurses in providing inpatient hospice care. It’s the only room of its kind in the valley.A hospice isn’t a place for people to die, but a philosophy of care. Hospice is not about dying, but about patients making choices about how they want to spend their final months, weeks or days. It’s about helping those patients, their families and caregivers live out the final stages of life to the fullest, with dignity and sensitivity.”We celebrate when a baby comes into the world,” Daugherty said. “We wanted to make Max’s final time a celebration, too. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the hospice and the nurses. I don’t know how they do it.” The Maxine Miller room is set-aside for hospice patients under those circumstances. Designed by Donna Figg and Tara Klaers of Slifer Designs, it features home-like decorating to create a more comfortable atmosphere for the patient. The room has many green touches (Maxine’s favorite color), built-in walnut cabinetry, and a bathroom with tumbled stone tile in neutral, soothing colors and a patterned design, a state-of-the-art stereo system and flat-screen TV. Beth Slifer and her company donated all of their time, as well as coordinated and assisted in many other donations to make the room a reality.”It’s like we lit a match and they made a fire,” Daugherty said. “It snowballed into something wonderful. One hand reached out and touched another. No one said ‘no’. Donna and Tara were so eager to support this project; we know it touched their hearts.”Each day, love. Each day, give thanks. Each day, hug a friend. For every time someone, anyone leaves this life, they leave a human who loved them. They take a part of you.Vail, Colorado