After spending the last week- eight hours or more a day- with someone who is actively dying, my heart would always race right before I would turn down the hall towards their room. Anticipating the flags to be standing proudly at the entryway of their room.
All nursing home facilities react to a resident’s death differently. When I found out how the VA Hospital’s CLC treats their resident’s deaths, I thought it was a beautiful idea. I hope that all of the CLC’s do the same as mine does, because it means so much to the other residents and their families, the volunteers, and the staff.
Since the CLC strives to be a family setting, rather than a scary traditional nursing home, the residents become friends. They spend time together in the common area, as residents can go only in their own room. The residents all can tell when someone has taken a turn for the worse. They notice everything. When someone is about to pass, the residents are allowed to go in their friend’s room to say a few words.
It pulls at the heart strings when I see a 90 year old resident wheel himself into another room to say goodbye to his fellow service member.
When a resident passes, the CLC stands two flags on either side of their door. One side is the USA flag, and the other is the branch they were in while serving in our military. I have turned the corner into hallways many times hoping to see the flags- and in the same breath- hoping not to see the flags. Unfortunately, sometimes it can take a while for the body to shut down, and it seems that it takes too long for my friends to feel peace again. When you witness suffering of any kind, it will create empathy that you will carry forever. The peace I am talking about is not only physical, but also emotional.
When I do see the flags, I have had different emotions- happiness, reflection, warmth, and selfishness.
Why selfishness? Well, in some cases I wasn’t ready to lose my friend yet! The lovely namesake of this blog is a great example of this. The day he passed, he was smiling and giggling at jokes. I was happy for him to be out of pain when I saw his flags, but sad to lose a sweet friend.
The flags guard their door for several days.
A memorial service is given once a month for the residents who have passed since the last. The Chaplin comes every Thursday for Bible studies/religious services, and one is reserved for the memorial service. The services are always packed- the residents always come, family, staff, and volunteers.
The flags are also displayed at the service. At the end of the memorial service, the Chaplin asks if anyone would like to say a few words about the deceased. The best comment was when a resident said that the he always thought it was kind of the deceased to share his Marine magazines with him. It was sweet because both men were known to be crank pots.