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Learning Life Lessons From A Hospice Patient

26 Jan 2018, Posted by Seasons in Community

About the Author: Lucas Smith is a volunteer with Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care in New Haven, Connecticut. Lucas is also a medical student at Quinnipiac University. His weekly visits with our patients, brings so much joy to their lives. Lucas has been visiting our patient, Allen, at the assisted facility where he lives  since October. The two recently worked together to complete a poster honoring Allen for serving our country. Below, you’ll find a brief story of Lucas’s first encounter with Allen.

I still vividly remember my first interaction with Allen.

Since I knew he was a 94-year-old hospice patient, I had a preconceived idea of what he would look like; feeble and reserved. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Allen was rolling up and down the hallway, grinning from ear to ear, mingling with anyone who passed him. I see this same energy every time I observe him interacting with other people. I’ve never seen a person so jubilant just at the sight of others. I am lucky enough to experience this on a weekly basis. Allen’s eyes light up as soon as he sees a familiar face and he can’t help but to socialize.

When we first met, Allen and I chatted for well over an hour about his life and his past endeavors. We talk about anything and everything! What’s most interesting are Allen’s stories about his life as a Marine. He traveled across the globe with his troops; everywhere from Florida to the Pacific during World War II. According to him, the Marines helped mold him into the man he is today. Although Allen acknowledges that he experienced some trauma in wartime, he doesn’t let that negatively impact his life today. He advises me regularly to “take my hardships and learn from them,” as he has done so well.

To say that Allen is unique would be an understatement. He loves offering advice for any dilemmas I face. This includes advice on things as trivial as golf to things as significant as my future career goals in medicine. He always tells me to take everything as a learning experience and to never be afraid to ask others for help.

Allen possesses other unique mannerisms that magnify his individuality. For one, he has never taken a sip of alcohol in his entire life, something extremely awe-inspiring to many of us at RegalCare [the facility where he lives] and our Seasons staff. Another quirk he has is that as soon as he hears music, Allen begins waving his hands in the air and tapping his feet as if composing the song himself. Because of that, I purchased a CD player as a gift for Allen for Christmas. Now, whenever I visit him we listen to music and he does this little dance; I love this delightful eccentricity. It’s a testament to his character and his appreciation of the immaterial gifts of life, such as music.

I have been visiting Allen since October and he’s given more to me than I could ever provide him. A good portion of our time spent together was spent creating his “Legacy Project.” This project is a way to honor Allen and his dedication to protect this country. This legacy project is a board honoring Allen’s service, with pictures and words that describe his life as a Marine.

As I did most of the leg work, Allen helped develop the creative vision for the project. I made sure to seek his input when designing it, although he put a lot of trust in me and supported the creative liberty I would take in putting it together.

Allen is genuinely proud of our work. Whenever we pass it in the hallway he stops and gazes at it. He also makes sure to stop anyone who is near to tell them about it and compliment the work that I did. I also hear from staff members that they often catch him in the hallway looking at it.

Allen has spent his entire life serving others. He served for our country during World War II, and spent the rest of his life as a police officer in Milford, CT.

His selflessness is evident on a daily basis. I commonly find Allen sitting in his bed when I visit him. As soon as I arrive he always offers his bed to me and asks if I would like to lay down. Allen constantly offers me his plethora of snacks and at times will refuse to take no as an answer.

What is most admirable about Allen in my eyes is his optimistic attitude. Not once have I heard him complain to me or have anything negative to say about another person. He epitomizes living in the moment. All that matters to him is his family and the company he surrounds himself with. As he put it in his own words, “I know that I have money in the bank, but that doesn’t matter to me anymore, I’m happy the way I am.”

Darlene, the Volunteer Manager with Seasons Hospice, told me, “You need to see our patients, not just look at them. If you just look at their age, disease, wheelchair and surroundings, you will miss seeing the person and their story. We all have one and we are just older versions of ourselves.”

Darlene’s words challenged me and redirected my thoughts in such a way that this volunteering experience has truly become life-changing. In a world consumed with materialism, image and technology, Allen really helps put things in perspective for me. He has instilled in me a newfound gratitude for the little things in life, and I am forever grateful.

If you’d like to learn more about Allen, you can watch this video below to see how he was honored for his military service back in August.

We Honor Veterans: Allen

We honor the service and sacrifices that our patients who are veterans made for our freedoms.That's why Seasons is proud to partner with We Honor Veterans to provide a special gift of thanks. Here's how we celebrated our patient, Allen.#hospice #hpm #veterans

Posted by Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care on Thursday, September 7, 2017