What else can I do?

By Loren Hardin – 

This is part two of a series about Kate, who enrolled in hospice at age 91 with end-stage congestive heart failure.  Kate lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Bud. Kate continues to exert her independence while her daughter, Rose, attempts to maintain that “delicate balance” of providing support without becoming overly protective.
Bill, Kate’s hospice volunteer soon displaced both myself and our chaplain Pete, as Kate’s favorite.  Kate once told Pete, “Pete, Pete, you’re so sweet!”  But when Bill came along, Kate discarded Pete like a worn out pair of shoes. I told Bill that what Kate did with Pete reminds me of the song, “Build Me up Buttercup,” “Why do you build me up buttercup, baby, just to let me down and mess me around”.  I have to confess, I loved it!
In part one, Kate shared a story from her childhood in rural West Virginia.  When she was 10 years old their disabled neighbor sent his son over to their house to buy a couple of chickens.  Kate recounted, “I asked him if he wanted them today or for later and he told me his father would like them for supper that night.  I told him I already let them out and couldn’t get them back, so I would have to go up in the woods and shoot them. We always let our chickens run around in the woods. When they run around in the woods like that they get as big as turkeys. So I went up to the woods where they were.  I whistled and when they stuck their heads up to look around their heads made good targets and I shot both of them. A few days later the old man next door told me, ‘If you can shoot like that I know I’m not going to mess around up there.’ I told him that he didn’t have any business messing around up there anyway.”
Kate later shared “the rest of the story”. Her neighbor had been a police officer until his career abruptly ended.  A young child found his father’s handgun and hid behind the couch with it. The family unsuccessfully tried to coax him out and then called the police for help.  Kate’s neighbor was the officer who responded and when he tried to take the gun away from the child, he was accidentally shot in the hip. Kate stated, “From that day forward he was barely able to walk. So he took up quilting to have something to do. Other people made fun of him for it, but I thought a lot of him for it.”
Kate’s neighbor’s story launched us into a discussion about the vital importance of having “something to do.” I pointed out to Kate that, week after week, when I asked her what she had been up too she always responded, “Well, I’ve just been putting in my time.  I’m just waiting. I can’t see, I can barely walk, and my hearing is getting bad. What else can I do?”  I explained to Kate, “I don’t know if that bothers you but it sure bothers me.” I suggested that she turn her sighs into questions and seek the answers.
So we brainstormed about what else she could do. We identified and focused on what remained instead of on what she’d lost.  Kate loved the Book of Psalms so her family ordered the book on cassette.  She loved reading novels about the Wild West so we checked out books on cassette from the public library.  We talked about the power of her words to encourage, validate, and inspire others and she commented, “Maybe God can use some of my spiritual experiences to help someone.” So Kate called family and friends and she prayed for them.  Kate searched for and found “something else to do” and I thought a lot of her for it.
Life perennially presents us with the question, “What else can I do?” The present and the future are not always extensions of the past and  we will encounter stages and phases when there is no going back to what used to be. My hope is that we, like Kate, will turn our sighs into questions and seek the answers, that we will discover something else to do and thereby continue living instead of merely existing.
Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at lorenhardin53@gmail.com. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.