Lately I’ve written several columns about issues in which people of faith have attempted to understand current problems in our society. Since I’m a senior adult – with our age group growing larger every year – that’s what draws my attention.
This week I turn my attention to Good Samaritan Hospice, for I’ve been familiar with its leaders since it began to receive patients in the Roanoke area in 1992. Since 2004 I’ve been one of its volunteers. I’m classed, not as one with direct contact with the dying, for I have no official medical background, but as an educator about its needs and purposes.
“Good Sam”, as it’s familiarly known, is not the oldest hospice in the valley. That distinction belongs to Carilion Roanoke Hospice which dates to 1980. Since Good Sam became established 12 years later, I’ve followed its development closely probably because I’ve known some of its personnel, such as its director, Sue Moore Ranson, through their church commitments.
Good Sam, however, is not religiously affiliated and draws persons judged terminally ill from many faith traditions—or not at all. It’s always had a chaplain whose commitment is to connect with the patient’s own congregation or if there is none to offer what spiritual help may be desired.
I had written about Ranson’s earlier work as a pediatric nurse working with seriously ill children at the old Roanoke Community Hospital before she left that job to help with the new hospice program. And I recall several other members of the staff who have been there for years, such as Karen Mayhew, who wrote movingly about her own mother’s death in a special 25th Anniversary booklet.
In 2004, after I had retired from the leadership of a seminary extension program for lay persons, I took the week of training to become a Good Sam volunteer. We had lectures on various medically-related topics and visited a local nursing home.
In the weeks and months following, I did a couple of speaking engagements in local churches and wrote about the hospice movement of caring for those judged terminally ill. I also accompanied staff members to several nearby industries, as well as events devoted to the interests of older people.
In this connection, I was glad to see that many adults in the blue collar and retail establishments were becoming familiar with hospice advantages. Many had learned of its help when an older relative died.
On occasion, we volunteers came together for dinners at a nearby hotel. On one of these Ranson had Chinese guests; the doctors had come to Roanoke to learn about setting up a program in the hospital where they practiced.
I’ve attended memorial services and the pre-Christmas tree lighting the Good Sam folk do each year in nearby malls. A small donation places a light on a holiday tree reminding the public of some loved ones who died during the previous year.
For me the most fun came in the early Christmases of this century when a small group of us volunteers visited a dozen or so Good Sam patients who were happy to have us sing seasonal music in their homes or nursing facilities. With auto-harp or guitar we visited those whose caregivers had accepted the invitation for us to visit.
The caroling is no longer carried on, to my regret, perhaps because the patient load has grown larger. One tangible reminder is still in my household.
At Yuletide 2006 our tour took us to an apartment house in Southeast Roanoke where a man was known to be terminally ill with lung cancer. Greeting our little party in the hallway was a strikingly beautiful calico cat, a Manx with an abbreviated tail. Her predominantly white coat bore jet black and deep russet markings, and she carried a tiny black “beauty spot” on her pink nose.
As the door was opened, she bounced in and immediately hopped on the sick man’s bed for his stroking hand. His caretaker told us regretfully that the cat had been adopted from a local shelter a few months earlier, when a happier life was planned away from Roanoke. Illness had shattered that plan and the cat would soon have to return to the shelter.
Enough said for this cat lover who had a few months earlier lost two beloved elderly felines.
On New Year’s Day with the new name of Gloria my Good Sam cat came home with me. And today, elderly and unaccepting of another rescue in my home, she remains a lap cat – if she hears one cry.