Walking With Angels

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By Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS

All God’s angels come to us disguised.” – James Russell Lowell

The air was crisp and the sun was bright that morning. There were angels in our midst.

More than three hundred people (along with dozens of pets) gathered at the North Shore Riverfront Park in September for Family Hospice and Palliative Care’s annual Memorial Walk.  Our Walk honors the memory of loved ones who have died – and is open to the entire community. But it’s much more than a Memorial Walk. It is an opportunity to share and support. Many of our walkers find comfort in seeing their loved ones’ hospice caregivers at the event. They re-connect, re-live memories and show appreciation for the indelible mark each has left in the others’ lives.

Jerri was there in support of someone else who had lost a loved one. Although her own husband passed away under our care a few years ago, this was her first Walk. The time was finally right and Jerri said that she had also come to the Walk “to see her hospice angels.”

Jerri (far right) and friends at Family Hospice’s annual Memorial Walk in September.
Jerri (far right) and friends at Family Hospice’s annual Memorial Walk in September.

Jerri’s words are important to us at Family Hospice. She has been more than generous in her praise of the care we provided for her husband.  She appreciates the chance to see those that took care of Jim and express her gratitude. And we at Family Hospice are grateful for the sentiments shared by Jerri and so many others.

Jerri is not the first to refer to our staff as “angels.” But we feel just as strongly about the patients, caregivers and families we encounter each day.  As our staff will tell you, we are the ones seeing angels on a daily basis.

There’s the elderly man in the South Hills who is the primary caregiver for his wife of 51 years, a dementia patient. His patience is a testament to his enduring love.

I recall the mother in Cranberry who lost her husband almost a year ago. Throughout her husband’s illness, she worked tirelessly to provide their four school-age children a “normal” life, all the while being the rock that supported her spouse.

A young woman in Sharon comes to mind. While building a new life as a newlywed, she also cares for her father, a congestive heart failure patient. “There’s enough of me to go around because I love them both so much,” she explains.

An elderly woman at a local long term care facility told her Family Hospice nurse: “I like to crochet blankets. As long as I am able to, I’ll make them and you share them with other patients.”

And there’s the man on Pittsburgh’s North Side, whose father and wife are under our care. As a son, a husband and father he does everything he can to provide care all around. He says he feels “better prepared” after taking part in our Family Hospice Compassionate Caregiver Training Program™.  But our staff quickly realized that his dedication to his family gives him much of the motivation he needs to be a caregiver.

All of these people, and so many others, are angels in our midst.  To them, what they do every day comes from the heart, without a second thought. That’s what makes them so special.  Just like the participants at our Memorial Walk, who honored the memories of their angels who have gone before us.

Each is special. Each makes a difference. Each leaves a lasting impression. And they come to us disguised as wives, husbands, sons, daughters, nurses, doctors, social workers and more.

There really are angels in our midst. Sometimes we just have to stop and appreciate them.

Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS, is President and CEO of Family Hospice and Palliative Care and Past Chairperson of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. He may be reached at rsciullo@familyhospice.com or (412) 572-8800. Family Hospice and Palliative Care serves nine counties in Western Pennsylvania. More information at www.familyhospice.com and www.facebook.com/familyhospicepa.