"I think I know you!"

"You look so familiar! What is your last name?"

Moving back into home hospice nursing has been a smooth transition for me. Seeing patients in their homes has been the majority of my practice over the past 27 years, despite the work I have done for the past 7-1/2 years at the bedside full time. The one difference this time is the number of connections that arise simply because of my past work in this community and, of course, JJ. She was the one staff member no one forgot. "Um, I don't remember meeting you. But I met the dog and she was amazing!" was a typical conversation. My response has always been along the lines of "Well, I was her driver."

When I arrived at the Adult Foster Care Home for my new patient, I met the owner, who proceeded to ask that leading question. As it turns out, she has connections to not only myself, but to my husband as well through his dog training. This really is a small community. After visiting with my patient, I spent some time sharing and laughing at all of the connections we really did have. Many of the memories did involve JJ and her work at the inpatient hospice. JJ was always the one who could elicit smiles and laughter, even through tears. Her magical ways blended her own style of hugs with a mooching finesse and plopping demand for belly rubs that could not be ignored.

As a young hospice nurse in the Seattle area, I remember feeling awkward and uncomfortable when running into a loved one of someone I had cared for in the past. It takes time to build life experiences that allow us to navigate the often turbulent waters of emotional response. While I was comfortable with supporting my patients and families through the dying process, I was not expecting to face the range of emotions people would have when remembering how they knew me. Often, it didn't bring good memories for the person, even for those who were so thankful for the support of our hospice team. Some just have a hard time thinking back to the time their loved one was dying.

So many years later, these encounters are all understandable and much more comfortable to deal with. It may be easier because so many of people's memories include a certain Golden Retriever who always made my job easier. Even after her death, JJ has made it easier to for people to consider end of life matters and remember their own stories, in person or online.
One of those memories included the Girl Scout visits JJ, and eventually Ember, loved so much. We actually had cared for the grandfather of two of the girls. For five years, girls from local troops gathered donations from the community for the family pantry of the hospice house and would deliver boxes of Girl Scout cookies and other food items. The first year, their delivery visit turned out to be only a few hours before their grandfather died with us. It's often not easy for family members to return to the place where their loved one died, but JJ definitely helped ease anxiety. and we so appreciated their support. During those years, if I was not working I would bring JJ, and then young Ember, in to see the girls. Of course, from a dog's perspective, those visits were all about belly rubs, attention, and trips to the cookie jar. They could care less about the masses of boxes. The owner of the Adult Foster Care Home was a family member of these girls and I enjoyed telling her stories of those Girl Scout visits.

Just a few days after our visit, a memory popped up on my social media related to another person we had in common. She was a family friend I had the honor of caring for intermittently over a several week period before her death. "It has indeed been a rough week for losing people we know. Tellus did make it back home last night and drove me back to work with JJ for S's walkout early this morning. It was an honor to help care for her, though it is never easy caring for those we know. JJ helped provide some laughs to everyone over the days with her mooching and slipper re-homing services." What great memories and a reminder I have a wonderful husband, as dealing with my work specialty is not easy for him.

Even with such a short time back into the community doing hospice work, it is clear there have been many connections made. I am reminded of the circle of life in so many ways. I look forward to continuing my hospice work and unearthing more memories along the way.

"Beauty exists not in what is seen and remembered, but in what is felt and never forgotten." Johnathan Jena


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