Yolo Hospice team members always ask patients, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” before they leave a patient’s home. But Spiritual Care Counselor Micah Murdock wasn’t expecting the response he received when he asked patient John Coleman this question. John’s long-time partner Delores said, “You can marry us.”
“I turned to John,” Micah relates, “and asked him, do you want to marry her? He told me, I’ve been asking her to marry me for 34 years. She kept saying no.” Now, it was his final wish.
Micah went into action. He arranged for the marriage license, which required special steps because of John’s illness. Yolo Hospice’s Medical Director Kendra Hutchinson signed the papers to say John couldn’t appear in person, and a friend of Yolo Hospice notarized John’s signature at home.
Micah took Delores to the Marriage License Office. “She kept saying she couldn’t believe it was really happening,” he tells. “She asked me if they’d really give a marriage license to her.”
Micah’s work went into more than just the legal side. He found a beautiful, brightly colored dashiki dress for Delores, honoring her African-American heritage, and loaned his own tuxedo shirt and cummerbund to John. Another friend of Yolo Hospice provided flowers to match Delores’ dress. Yolo Hospice volunteer David Deerfeeder took photographs to create a beautiful wedding album, framed the wedding certificate and paid for the license. He also played music and sang, including “At Last.” “The song was so perfect,” Micah says. “Everyone cried.”
Delores’ son provided two rings for his parents to exchange. Micah performed the marriage ceremony, held at home with family around. Despite his illness, John insisted on standing up for the ceremony, because “a man doesn’t get married lying down.” He was also able to cut the cake and have a toast with his new wife.
“It was a beautiful event,” Micah says, “and I think it gave the family a lot of peace.” John died peacefully, and married, just a few days later.
This most recent story, playing out in real time, should have all of us asking the question, “What will be most important to me when I journey through my final days?” Having pain and symptoms managed, being comfortable, and feeling loved and not alone, are at the top of most people’s list. But beyond the obvious comfort-related goals, there are frequently other things that are meaningful and important to our patients.
Some people want help in reconciling broken family relationships. Others hope to feel well enough to attend a special graduation or the birth of a grandbaby. I was once a volunteer for an 82-year-old woman who desperately wanted to walk through the doors of her favorite casino one more time to go gambling with friends. For another woman, in her mid-sixties and whose life was slipping away from stage four ovarian cancer, hospice made it possible for her to finally celebrate her bat mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage that traditionally marks the transition from youth to adulthood.
Over the years, I have seen all sorts of wishes and end-of-life goals realized for people fortunate enough to receive mission-driven, values-based nonprofit hospice care. When adding days to life may no longer be possible, adding life to days becomes our goal for our patients. Navigating a serious illness is never easy. Neither is the moment when you feel nothing can be done. That’s when it helps to have someone by your side, reminding you and your loved ones that there is more that can be done. That your life always matters.