Wide Awake: How to Help
Sometimes, doing nothing is really something

There came a day four years ago, when my family had to call in hospice for my dad, who had been battling colon cancer for 18 months. The first meeting my dad had with a caregiver from Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice was pretty unusual – surprising in fact. But it’s why I think so highly of this organization and the people throughout South Jersey who do such inspiring work.

I was recently honored by Samaritan during their annual gala, receiving their Circle of Excellence award. From the start, I felt a little uncomfortable with the recognition, which I told the supporters who were attending the gala. When you really consider what Samaritan does, it’s clear who should be honored – they should. So every time someone congratulated me, I thanked them and tried to be gracious, but my brain was thinking, “Oh, please stop talking about this.”

When my family was waiting for that first caregiver to arrive from Samaritan, I remember wondering what she might be thinking on her way to this meeting. Every time she arrived for a family visit, she had to know behind that front door was heartache and despair; that she was about to meet people experiencing the deepest sadness. But she was bringing tools, information and resources that could make things a little bit better. What an incredible gift that is – to give people some sense of ease at a time when things couldn’t be worse. I wondered if she understood that. She must, I figured.

When she sat with my dad and began to talk about how she could help him, my dad’s immediate response was basically to say thanks but no thanks. He told her he was good, because he had his family with him. She seemed really nice, he said, but everything was fine just as is.

The rest of us were shocked. I wasn’t sure where this was coming from, and I didn’t know how the woman would respond. She had so much to offer my dad, and he was pretty much turning it down – and turning it down before even hearing all she could do. She had every right to talk to him a little more, try to convince him how she could help him. But instead, she spoke in a very comforting tone and said, “That’s fine. You just let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” That was the end of their conversation.

It wasn’t until later that I realized exactly what this kind hospice worker had done for my dad. She had given him power and respect, something he didn’t have for 18 months. Cancer had most of the power during that time, so did the doctors, his body and sometimes even us. Her gift was so much better than any drug she could have given him or time she could have spent talking with him about the end of his life. She did so much by doing so little, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Many times people comment they could never do the job of a hospice worker, and I understand. But this experience with my dad has made me see the incredible joy these workers bring to their patients. And they bring this joy when there isn’t a speck of happiness to be found. Not a speck. That is such admirable work.

What’s even more admirable is when someone sitting in a room with joy in their pocket opts to keep it there, because she recognizes it isn’t needed. Something else is needed, and that is to let a man control his final days. I truly am forever grateful.


March 2016
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