October 31, 2014

Au Revoir to a Sister

Cheryl LaGuardia1 Au Revoir to a SisterI’ve been offline for several weeks, having gone out of state to be with my eldest sister, Patty, who died last week from a degenerative nerve disease. My other sister, Michele (who has been a saint in taking care of Patty’s needs) and I were extremely saddened by her passing, but it was a great release for her as she was very uncomfortable and she—and we—wanted her suffering to be over. Our family is thankful that it is, at the same time that we mourn her loss.

I don’t consider myself a particularly religious person, but I do believe that this life is not all there is, having seen too much evidence to the contrary: hence the title for this column. I don’t have answers for all the loss everyone goes through in their lives, but this recent experience, combined with other life-changing experiences, makes me believe that the best we can do in this life is to try to be kind and giving to others.

That belief was reinforced profoundly by what I witnessed during my sister’s illness, when she was in a hospital but also under hospice care. I had heard from friends that hospice is a wonderful organization, but had never seen it in action first-hand. Now I have, and I can say that I don’t understand how they manage to do what they do, but I am overwhelmingly grateful that they do it. They managed Patty’s pain masterfully, upping pain medications when needed, and re-positioning her and soothing her in her final struggles. They were warm, compassionate, and empathetic, not only to Patty but to Michele and me, too. I cannot say enough good things about them.

If, and when, you have a loved one who is seriously ill, I strongly urge you to involve hospice early—they can help you in ways too numerous to list here, and perhaps most importantly, they can help you achieve clarity about what you and your loved one want during the time of crisis. In response to many questions from friends and colleagues about memorial donations for Patty, I’d ask that they be sent to The Community Hospice of Amsterdam, New York.

A huge, heartfelt thank you to friends, co-workers, and colleagues around the country who’ve been so supportive of my family and me during this crisis. Warm thanks also to the author Anna Quindlen, whose writings have been getting me through some tough times. Always a librarian, I turn to books for my solace, and they never fail me.

Whatever your belief system, and whatever deities you believe in, may they bless you all!

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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Comments

  1. Rhea Lesage says:

    Dear Cheryl,

    Thank you for sharing this personal story with your readers– a beautiful piece and a well-deserved tribute to the angels who are hospice workers. I am thinking of you and Michelle, sending you warm thoughts and blessings.

    Rhea

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Cheryl. My condolences to you and your family on the passing of your sister. I agree 100% that hospice is a wonderful organization – they have helped in my family when my grandfather and later my mother-in-law were in the end stages of their lives. And like you, I cannot imagine how they do the work they do, but I am quite grateful for it.

    • Dear Winona,
      Thanks for your condolences, and for sharing your hospice experiences. It makes us feel less isolated hearing from others, and I think expressing how wonderful hospice is can never be repeated too often.
      Cheryl

  3. Cheryl, I always enjoy your column, but never more so than this one. Thanks for sharing your sister with us. I am also a believer in good hospice care, but have experienced both extremes of care under different hospice providers with my dad, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Just make sure your hospice provider is reputable and can point to a their track record. His very last experience as he passed away was truly beautiful because it allowed his family to all gather around him, share family stories all night during his last night, and say good bye as he quietly left us. We cried, we laughed, we hugged–a very cathartic experience. Thanks to Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas.

    • Thanks for writing, Debbi, and for sharing your experiences with hospice. Your advice is good and I hope it will be helpful to others when they consider working with hospice. Your description of your dad’s passing and the ways in which your family were able to be with him and be part of his transition certainly inspire, and hearten, me.
      Thanks again, and best wishes,
      Cheryl

  4. Patricia Glass Schuman says:

    My sincere condolences Cheryl. This is a wonderful column. I wish i had known more about hospice when Stan was terminally ill.

    • Dear Pat,
      Thanks for writing, and for the condolences. I did not know that Stan had passed, so please accept my condolences in return. Since hospice made things bearable for us, I am very interested in encouraging others to get in touch with them early.
      Many thanks again, and best wishes for the New Year,
      Cheryl

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