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Our Stories

Old Faithful Watch Party

Mr. Billy Stanley is a retired engineer.  A smart and physically active man for most of his life, Mr. Stanley’s dementia has robbed him of many of his physical and mental capabilities; a hard thing for him and a hard thing for his wife to watch. 

On a routine visit to Mr. Stanley in his nursing home room on a day that was a particularly hard day, Hospice of East Texas Chaplain, David Badders asked Mr. Stanley what he would like to do, anything he would like to do if only he could.  The answer was unexpected.  “I’d like to go see Old Faithful,” said Mr. Stanley.  “I always wanted to see that, and I never did.”

That’s the kind of statement that sets the Hospice of East Texas team into motion.  There’s something one of our patients wants.   What can we do to make it happen?

Chaplain David contacted Marleen Elkins, volunteer coordinator, and Dave Lemming, Mr. Stanley’s Hospice volunteer.  Dave did some research and found out that it was possible to watch the eruptions of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming via a live web cam set up by the geyser. Dave also figured out how to connect to the webcam with his computer and how to stream the footage onto the television in the nursing home’s living room. 

Marleen called Colonial Lindale nursing home and proposed having an “Old Faithful Watch Party”.  The staff  was delighted!

On the appointed day, Dave arrived early to get all the technology set up, and when Mr. Stanley and his wife, Nelda, came into the room they were greeted by the site of Old Faithful in real time on the television.  Like the park visitors on the screen, waiting patiently all bundled up against the cold, the “Old Faithful Watch Party” in the nursing home gathered around to watch and wait.  Marleen shared a guide book she bought on a recent vacation with beautiful color photos of Old Faithful.

Then, something magical happened.  Mr. Stanley’s engineering mind kicked into high gear.  “What is the volume of water the geyser spouts?” he asked.  “How high does it go?”  “How often does it erupt?”  Engaged, happy, and animated, Mr. Stanley fired question after question, his eyes twinkling, and a smile on his face, as Marleen found the answers in the guide book.  Mrs. Stanley beamed at the sight of her husband, talkative and ‘on point’, the way he had once been.  Then, it was time.  Old Faithful erupted, just as it does every day, exactly on schedule, and the “Old Faithful Watch Party” was there to cheer this wonder of nature, so far away and yet right there in the living room of Colonial Lindale.

“What would you like to do?” Chaplain David had asked on a particularly hard day.  The Hospice of East Texas team took Mr. Billy Stanley to Yellowstone National Park to see Old Faithful just as he wished, creating a really good day and some special moments full of joy and wonder.

There are some people who are just fixtures at Hospice of East Texas, and Bobby Crone is one of them.   You can find him at our offices most every day… and even on the days you don’t see him around, it’s most likely that he’s doing something, somewhere for Hospice. 

Hospice has a yard service, but Bobby puts the finishing touches on their work to make sure the grounds and gardens around the Robert M. Rogers Hospice Center and HomePlace always look nice.  In the warmer months, Bobby is often at work just as the sun comes up, before it gets too hot.  No limb touches the ground for too long!

For several years, Bobby volunteered to lead the bereavement support group for people who had lost their spouses, a job that requires great compassion and attention.

Bobby makes regular rounds to the freezers in all the employee break rooms and office areas to keep them stocked with ice cream and frozen treats, such a nice touch that is so appreciated by our staff.

And for years and years, Bobby has volunteered to visit hospice patients in their homes.  His volunteer coordinator knows that she can count on Bobby for any assignment, anywhere.  He will go to homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities.   He is willing to help those patients and families who are difficult or who live in difficult circumstances.  It doesn’t matter.  Bobby knows what they are going through, because Hospice of East Texas cared for his beloved Martha in the final months of her life.  It’s because he had the same experience that Bobby now gives back to Hospice of East Texas. 

We can’t imagine a day in the life of Hospice of East Texas without the presence of Bobby Crone.

Out to Dinner...One more time

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

At Hospice of East Texas, we have begun using this phrase in our fundraising and advertising.  It’s a lovely idea, to be sure, but in this work, the truth of those words is often made very real by the startling, breathtaking moments that our staff and volunteers have the privilege to witness.  A romantic dinner at HomePlace was one such moment that took our breath away.

Mr. Herbert Washington was a patient at HomePlace, and he had one request:  he wanted to take his beloved wife out to dinner one more time.

The HomePlace staff whirled into action.  Zeta worked her decorating magic, transforming a family waiting room into a lovely dining room, complete with lace tablecloth, china plates and flowers.  Izzy ran home and got wine glasses.  Dr. Ferguson gave Bert her credit card to buy a take-out catfish dinner, Mr. Washington’s request.  Travis Floyd, Dr. Ferguson’s husband, happened to call in the middle of all the activity, and was asked to bring one of his suits for Mr. Washington to wear.  Johnny thought of the music: Luther Vandross of course.

When Mrs. Washington arrived that evening, her eyes flew open with surprise.  Everything was in place for a romantic dinner for two, at the center of which was her dear husband, so handsome, beaming with pride and love.

Yes, it’s true.  Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

On Loan to Us

Lucy* and her twin sister were born much too soon.  They received wonderful care in a local neonatal ICU, and though her sister slowly began to thrive, Lucy had complication after complication which left her with severe brain damage.  She could suck and swallow, and thus receive nourishment, but she was unable to see or hear or even regulate her tiny body’s temperature.  A special warming blanket, sensitive to the ebbs and flows of her temperature, kept Lucy comfortable and safe.  It was not a long term solution.  Lucy would not live for very long.

After three months, Lucy’s sister was ready to go home, and the family wanted to take Lucy home as well.  There were four siblings to welcome her, and parents who loved all their children deeply and were committed to doing all they could to care for their tiny, fragile daughters.  At the request of their pediatrician, Hospice of East Texas stepped in to provide care for Lucy and support for her family. 

The highly complicated warming blanket Lucy needed was not normally sold to anyone but neonatal intensive care units, but Hospice staff talked the company into selling one to Hospice of East Texas so that Lucy could have it at home. While Lucy was being transported by ambulance the fifty miles to her home, Hospice staff arrived to help the family get ready.  When the blanket was plugged in, it blew out all the fuses in the modest trailer home.

It was early evening and Lucy was on the way, so there was nothing to be done but improvise.  Hospice staff bought a heating pad at Walmart, took it to the house and stayed with the mom, instructing her to take Lucy’s temperature every thirty minutes through that first night until another warming blanket, with fewer electrical demands, could be purchased and delivered.  The new blanket arrived the next day, and  over time, the family gradually settled into a complex and demanding routine, meeting the needs of two newborns and four other children.

One day, Lucy’s mom said the most extraordinary thing.  “I know she’s mine,” she said, “but she’s only mine for a little while.   She’s on loan to us, and then she will go back to God.”

Make no mistake about it.  That Lucy is able to spend her final days on earth at home with her family would not have been possible without the Hospice of East Texas and the support of friends like you.  And make no mistake about this:  only the Hospice of East Texas would go to such extraordinary lengths to give Lucy and her family the gift of time together as a family in their own home.  Caring for Lucy requires constant visits from nurses, frequent phone calls, special feedings and expensive equipment that Hospice of East Texas may never use again.  Your gifts make it possible for Hospice of East Texas’ to provide this extraordinary care and  fulfill our commitment to care for each patient who needs us, no matter what it takes.  Lucy’s family, who does not have health insurance, will never receive a bill for the care they receive.

As her mom expressed so poignantly, Lucy is on loan to her family for just a short while, but in that time, her family has enjoyed the gift of her presence, all of them together in their home.  

As this newsletter goes to press, Lucy and her twin sister just celebrated their five month birthdays, a milestone no one expected Lucy to reach.  “It’s love – and God – that are keeping us together,” said Lucy’s mom. “It’s been a blessing.”   Indeed.

Bringing Ron Home

Ron moved to Tyler from California in 2006.  There was a story there, but no one knew any more than the little snippets Ron shared:   As a truck driver, he had often passed through Tyler in his big rig.  Tyler was pretty and looked to Ron like a good place to call home once he got off the road. 

Ron bought a mobile home and settled in with his beloved dog who had been his only family for many years.  He started attending the activities at the Tyler Senior Center, a program run by the City of Tyler, especially enjoying the camaraderie around the pool tables and the Friday night dances.  As time went on, Ron began coming to the Center every day and then arriving earlier and earlier each day, taking on small helpful tasks, making the coffee, taking out the trash.  “We just got used to having him here,” said Kay Odom, the Center’s Supervisor.  “Ron was a big kidder and so much fun to be around.  He became a part of our lives.”

The Center’s staff noticed that Ron always brought a bologna sandwich for his lunch, the same sandwich every single day, and he never joined in the hot noon meal provided at the Center by Meals on Wheels.  By this time, the staff knew Ron to be a proud man.  Maybe he thought it was a ‘free lunch’, something he would never ask for.  Maybe he thought the lunch carried a price tag he couldn’t afford.  No one knew how to broach the subject.  “I finally just blurted it out,” said Kay. “Ron, if we could fix it so that you could get a hot meal at lunch, would you like that?” she asked, but she was unprepared for his response.  
After a long pause, Ron replied humbly. 

 “Well, I guess I qualify.”

 “I have a Purple Heart.”

 “Do you need to see it?”

Ron was diagnosed with cancer at the Veterans Administration hospital in Dallas in 2011, and it was his friends from the Center who drove him back and forth for visits and then treatments.  He had surgery in the fall of 2012 at the VA, but just never bounced back and most of the time he was alone.

When the physicians at the VA mentioned hospice care, Ron’s friends at the Tyler Senior Center had the same idea at about the same time:  “We need to bring Ron home”.  A phone call to Hospice of East Texas set the wheels in motion.  “I’ll never forget the nurse saying to me, ‘we can do this!’” said Kay.  It took a while for all the paperwork and forms and red tape to be cleared.  There were many people in Tyler who loved Ron but no one was legally his family, and it was complicated.  But on a Sunday afternoon in early December, an ambulance brought Ron “home”, to HomePlace, Hospice of East Texas’ inpatient facility. 

“I never thought anyone could do this for me,” Ron said over and over.  Dr. Tom Beets assured Ron and all his friends that HomePlace was their home now, and that they should treat it as such.  For the next three weeks, Ron’s adopted family surrounded him with their caring presence.  They were at his bedside literally around the clock, decorating his room with poinsettias and a little Christmas tree, joking with him, sitting quietly sometimes, just ‘being there’ the way a family should be.

“It was a gift”, said Kay Odom, “the gift of a wonderful ending.  For Ron to end his journey this way, surrounded by his Tyler ‘family’, in a beautiful place with incredibly caring people was a priceless gift.”    After his death, there was talk of a memorial service, but Ron’s friends knew what he would have wanted.  “He had already had his send-off,”  Kay said, “and Hospice of East Texas gave it to him.  For the last few weeks of his life, Ron received hugs and cards and gifts and conversations from all the people who had grown to love him.  He was so happy, and he said over and over “I’ll never be able to thank you enough’.” 

No one knew much about the beginning of Ron’s life, or even the middle of it.  But those who had come to know and love him knew about its ending.  That wonderful ending was a gift, a gift to a proud man who had served his country valiantly.  Hospice of East Texas brought Ron home to celebrate his life.

A Season to Receive

The look in her eyes said it all… This is serious. This is the beginning of a hard journey. I am so sorry that you are going to be introduced to the heartache and pain that is ahead. I need you so much. I love you so much. Her eyes said it all… the eyes of my wife. She had found a lump in her breast and years of experience and her God-given intuition said that this was no ordinary situation. She had been a registered nurse for over thirty years and a good one. She had taken care of countless numbers of people. She had given freely of her knowledge, skill, insight, and compassion to patients all over East Texas. She had travelled the world on mission trips just to nurse people to health and share her heart. She was a born caregiver who was about to discover the art of receiving care. As my wife had worked to minister to the physical needs of patients, I had spent my life ministering to their spiritual and emotional needs. I had spent those same thirty years as a pastor in and around the area. I knew what it was like to sit for hours with people in the hospital waiting room. I knew what it was like to be called out in the middle of the night to hold the hand of someone who was grieving. I knew what it was like to give care to folks with broken hearts. Now it was to be my turn to discover the art of receiving care as well.

For a year we walked together through the mine field of emotion that cancer laid before us. Surgeries, hospitalizations, infections, lab work, tubes and drains, chemo, radiation and so many days trying to make some solid sense of it all, that was life. The best way to describe that period was a constant and futile effort to nail "Jello" to the wall. Family and friends from all over converged on us to offer their love and support and come to our aid. It was an overwhelming and humbling experience. At first we tried to resist. We were "care givers" not receivers. However, gradually we began to realize that life had changed. The season to give had been embraced and enjoyed. Now it was the season to receive. It was time to allow others to be a blessing to us. It was time to let other people with hearts of love and compassion to reach out and minister to us just as we had done for so many years. It was a point in our lives when we would learn the value of opening our hearts to allow the love of others to flow in. As that love flowed we found healing and comfort and peace and strength.

The last few months the disease process began to speed up, and we made the transition to hospice care. We had both served for years as volunteers for the Hospice of East Texas. It was our turn once again to be on the receiving end of care that we were accustomed to giving.

Our nurses shared their love and compassion and skill and insight with my wife and family. The chaplains opened their hearts. The rest of the staff gave us smiles and hugs and encouragement at every turn. Early one Sunday morning my wife smiled her last smile here on this earth. She left behind two wonderful children, a loving mother and brothers and sisters who are very special. And she left a man who was blessed to call her sweetheart. We had learned many lessons in life and about life over the years. Of all the lessons we learned, one of the more poignant was the value and importance of accepting our Season to Receive.