Last week at hospice, “G” was feeling angry and frustrated about being unable to go out to eat. She is in a wheelchair but unable to get around by herself anymore, and she said she was feeling trapped and restless. I reflected back to her that it made perfect sense to me that she wanted to be able to go out and eat whatever she wanted whenever she wanted, that I value that too. I told her that I saw that she was frustrated at her loss of freedom and control over her life. We sat together in the garden while she smoked. At one point, she almost tapped her cigarette ash into her glass of soda and, trying to be helpful, I moved the glass away a bit and moved her ashtray closer. Sharply, she said she wanted to tap her ash into her soda (perhaps covering for her momentary lapse in perception). I said well, you probably shouldn’t drink it after that then. She snapped that she could do whatever she liked, and she promptly proceeded to tap her ash into her soda and then defiantly took a drink from it. I said, you’re right, it’s absolutely your choice. In that moment, this was her best assertion of control and autonomy, and I stood respectful witness to this powerful woman.
Today, she was more subdued and said she was dealing with fear and didn’t want to be left alone. She asked me to stay with her while she napped, asking repeatedly for my assurance that I wouldn’t leave her. I sat at her bedside and she frequently opened her eyes to make sure I was still there until finally I placed my hand on her arm so she could feel me there without having to check. She rested more peacefully for a while as I sat quietly with her. Later, we had a party for a visiting former volunteer and G joined us at the big table full of lively talk and good food, she seemed right at home, participating in life.