Kathleen Vinson had been caring for her husband Gary for ten years as he slowly gave ground to Alzheimer’s disease.
Complications from surgery sent him into a steep decline that ended at home where he eventually passed, under the care of Housecall Providers Hospice and surrounded by his family.
Despite hearing that Gary could undergo dialysis, navigating complex medical decisions and second-guessing herself at every turn, Kathleen was able to stay positive and bring joy to Gary and their son, daughter-in-law and grandson as they spent Gary’s final days together at home.
Her decision to focus on gratitude helped her find grace and meaning in the face of great loss.
Housecall Providers Hospice care was one of the things she felt grateful for. “From the moment I said ‘hospice’ (Housecall Providers) took over and everything happened so fast,” Kathleen said.
“They came in and they set up the bed, showed me how to work it, gave me a wheelchair, talked to me about what would be necessary. And, what made it so easy, is that they really listened to me.”
Even more than that responsiveness, the feeling that she also was being cared for by the team helped her through.
“They put a magnet with contact info on the fridge telling me that I could call them 24 hours a day,” says Kathleen. “They came to check on us, helped with the ostomy, they talked directly to Gary, they were kind and gentle.”
Even so, the difficulties, coupled with knowledge that she would soon be a widow, required Kathleen to dig deep to find the emotional resources she needed for herself and her family.
When asked how she managed to stay so positive through such a difficult time, Kathleen answered frankly, “I worked at it. Finding joy and grace and being positive, it was an intention.” She kept a gratitude journal, in which she reserved time to write every morning. She paused frequently to reflect on things for which she could be grateful.
A dramatic turning point in her grieving process came when her pastor told a story of visiting his father’s grave and what came to him to say was, “I forgive you for leaving me.” Kathleen realized then that, even with all her love, she had missed the small part of her that was angry at Gary for leaving her, even though she knew it was not by choice.
Letting go of that anger made her realize she was lucky to be able to have such a powerful sense of grief because it meant that she had experienced an equally strong sense of love.
She describes many of those feelings in a poem she wrote which is published at the end of her story on the Housecall Providers blog. Grieving and loss affect each of us in different ways, and there is no right way to experience grief. Still, Kathleen’s experience might help others find gratitude where it may seem impossible to find. Approaching gratitude with intention — looking for those slender rays of sunshine in a sky full of clouds — gave Kathleen the courage, the strength and the grace she needed to navigate one of the most difficult events of her life.
While Kathleen found her hope and love from an inner wellspring, her journey was supported by her community and by the care she and Gary both received from Housecall Providers Hospice.
A poem by Kathleen Vinson:
Slipping Away or
A Slow Disappearance
He’s slipping away from me.
It’s not what we pictured,
Not what we wanted.
Not the way we wrote this stage.
We waited through years
Of toil and hard work.
Waited for a time of friendship,
And then it was all snatched away.
Just like that.
But not really in a flash.
More like oozing.
Dripping away daily, monthly, yearly.
A slow disappearance.
Memories, judgement, language.
All draining from a well-lived life.
That’s hard to say.
Probably not contemplation.
Just a void, where once there was
Wit, perception, and reason.
But we will carry on,
Because that’s life.
And that’s love.
In sickness and in health.
We said it, we meant it.
And so we will march on, but to a different beat.
Doing this stage as well as we can.
We will learn, and teach,
And ask for Grace.
And cherish this time that
Doesn’t follow the plan,
But is what we’ve been given.