As Bereavement Coordinator for WesleyLife Hospice, I have the privilege, along with my team, of lending support for up to a year to loved ones of clients who have died. Our bereavement program, filled with support groups, one-on-one meetings, and basically anything that is needed, helps set us apart from other hospice providers.
In my role, I listen to many grieving families share stories of their experiences while their loved one was near end of life, as well as months after the person died. I will be posting some of these stories every few weeks in the hopes that followers might recognize they are not alone and perhaps feel lifted up by the honesty and courage of other grievers.
One story worth sharing is from the Crozier family. I sat down and talked with three family members recently. They said they first heard of WesleyLife Hospice through a home health aide. Donna Crozier was declining in health and had to go on oxygen. It was suggested Hospice could provide comfort care in the family’s home.
Donna’s husband, Lyle, knew his wife would want to spend her final days at home, and the family agreed. A hospital bed was brought in and placed in the center of the home where family members could gather around to talk, eat, and good-naturedly tease one another. A noisy home filled with multiple generations of kin was just what Donna liked!
Lyle and Donna were married 67 years. They had a renewal of vows at their 65th anniversary party. The couple did everything together. When Lyle was building a garage, “she’d be right there beside me,” he recalled. He misses going places with his wife and finds it hard to come home to his new apartment and remember that she’s not there.
“I have to do all the cooking now,” he said. Lyle continues his wife’s tradition of making her special Chex Mix and seasoned oyster crackers in oversized batches. He bakes cakes for company. His faith helps him know Donna is in heaven. He shared that Donna’s sister Nova recently passed, and shortly before her death, she told him, “I’m going to go see Donna!” Lyle and his family laugh about all the fun the two ladies must be having.
Laughter was central in Donna’s life. She was adventurous and played pranks. I fell victim to one of her favorite pranks on my first home visit. She told Lyle to hand me a small Ziploc bag. It was marked on the outside with the words “hazardous” materials and inside was a small canister labeled “stool sample.”
“Look inside!” Donna commanded. I mumbled something about not having any surgical gloves and maybe her nurse should see it. “Oh, here!” said Lyle as he opened the bag and plunked in down in front of me. “Just open it and see.” I gingerly opened the cap and Lyle dumped the contents out. It was a small doll-sized wooden stool made for a miniature dollhouse. Donna roared with laughter until she struggled to breathe.
I found out much later that she carried her little prank bag to almost every doctor’s appointment. One physician was so amused he kept it for himself. She immediately bought another one, and to this day, the prank is no doubt continuing inside many medical communities in Des Moines!
As her family’s matriarch, Donna brought her clan together for many years of celebrations and delicious home cooking. Even as Donna was taking her last breath, her young great-grandchildren stayed near, reading aloud to her and drawing her pictures. I had the privilege of gathering on the floor with the youngest children to hear all the reasons they loved their grandma or great-grandma. They pointed to the many photographs covering every inch of the walls as they painted a picture of a fun-loving woman with a life rich with experiences. They showed off Donna’s child-size band uniform, complete with plumed marching hat. Many of them had dressed up in this special costume. A wooden rocking horse was also a focal point in the living room, the little ones and older ones all explaining how many children had ridden it over the years.
When Donna finally passed, Lyle and her children and grandchildren cried openly, and we all gathered in a circle for a final prayer. The funeral director gently wrapped her in blankets and took her to the funeral home.
Later, on a sunny day, family and friends gathered at a small cemetery under a large tent to share stories of Donna and listen to her favorite music. A peony bush was planted close by. Some family members laid flowers near Donna’s grave.
Donna’s son-in-law Frank told me, “Mom got reunion letters out and got everyone together. When she spoke, we listened. She could talk to anyone about anything.” Lyle agreed, adding, “She was very nice about it.”
Daughter Coy said her mother always put others first, accommodating many families and schedules, and always decorating for the holidays. She laughed, remembering all the “tacky holiday earrings mom wore.” Coy wears them herself now, and tells her co-workers they were her mother’s.
“WesleyLife Hospice was great, an awesome service for anyone anywhere,” Coy said, adding that she had felt comfortable encouraging her mother to “go with Grandpa” because no one wanted her to suffer.
Lyle added, “I think she was ready. Now we have to go on. She didn’t want us to stop. She wanted us to keep going.”
Coy agreed, saying she still has moments, days, and special times when she feels her grief for her mom and even for her first husband who died 17 years ago, but she goes on. Frank recently lost his brother and explained, “You have to go on, or what’s the use of it?”
Since Donna’s death, the Croziers have experienced surgeries, the births of new babies, and the COVID pandemic. I asked all three of them how a big family with so many different personalities and challenges can stay so resilient. They all agreed faith plays a big part, as well as the support they’ve always received from one another. The Crozier family motto was expressed by Lyle as, “Love one another and move forward!”
At WesleyLife Hospice, we are all about connections, and about celebrating what is special and meaningful about each God-given life. If our team can help you in any way, please contact us.