You’ll Accompany Me

BSE45854He was at home.

He was with his family.

His wife, who he said he loved more than life itself, sat by his side.

He had a good death.

Because he enjoyed rock and roll, a lot of music played during his final days at home. Several years from turning fifty, he was young. In those last moments, in those last breaths, there was one particular song that . . .

But I’m getting ahead of the story. It’s a story with a sad ending because a young man dies. It’s also a story with a good enough ending, because of those four opening sentences. How I wish everyone’s death (old or young, rich or poor) had some version of those simple, blessed opening sentences. That won’t happen. Some deaths are hard. Some deaths strip a person or family from any opportunity to prepare or plan. Sometimes we deny impending death and then find ourselves grieving not just the person, but our own blindness or stubbornness.

Telling this story means telling the beginnings—at least the parts we at hospice knew when first encountering a middle-aged guy that loved rock and roll.

As I recall from what the nurse said (and always, parts are made-up or a half-truth to protect the privacy of our patients), he’d gone from a doctor’s office to a hospital to surgery that was less than successful to a SNF. Ah, a SNF, an acronym pronounced sniff. Depending on the place, SNFs can be a polite term in medicalese or an insult. We sniff when we’re sick, after all. Sniff is also street slang for cocaine (so I’ve read). SNF stands for skilled nursing facility, a convalescent hospital, a place with too many beds and not enough nurses. Mostly, we think it’s where folks—old folks—go to die. Even the best SNF, with well-scrubbed floors, reasonable food and an attentive staff (and those kinds of places do exist) is still darn miserable for the patient. Our forty-something didn’t like it. He was big and burly and boisterous—or at least he had been—and while he was never over-medicated, he resisted taking meds. He was a cantankerous patient. Big, burly and boisterous wasn’t a good match for an overworked, underpaid staff.

His family fought for him to be released. They wanted to care for him at home.

It would be too much for a family, some of the professionals said.

Big, burly and boisterous demanded home.

He’s not in his right mind and can’t make good decisions, some of the professionals said.

Our hospice team added their voice, and supported the family’s desire to take him home.

It won’t be enough, some of the professionals said.

But the family was loud and proud, persistent and unwavering in their desire to bring their son and father and husband home. Fools those folks were. Getting in over their heads, they were. But often the best “drug” is home. Often the best “drug” is family. Often the best “drug” is taking a risk that even death won’t overwhelm you.

Big, burly and boisterous went home. (Here, the story mostly ends were I began. Maybe you’ll want to go back and read the opening four sentences.)

Now I’ll complete the fifth paragraph’s final sentence. In those last moments, in those last breaths, there was one particular song that that he loved because it reminded him of his wife. And so Bob Seger’s “You’ll Accompany Me” played in the background—a guitar riff of hope, a drumbeat of passion, lyrics of love—when he died with his hand wrapped in his wife’s hand.

Someday lady you’ll accomp’ny me
Out where the rivers meet the sounding sea
You’re high above me now, you’re wild and free ah but
Someday lady you’ll accomp’ny me
Someday lady you’ll accomp’ny me

It’s a story with an okay ending. Not every story has one. But to get there, hard work had to be done. There was persistence. There was a tough family. There was a big guy who longed for home.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

Album cover image from here.

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