One of the things I've learned in my 18 years as a hospice volunteer is that simple pleasures can be the best way for people to close the chapters of their lives. It's amazing to watch how a warm smile on the face of someone in their last days of life can help others understand their life had value. I've been a witness to this many times in my exposure to hospice patients, but it was never more evident than last week.
Rejeana is a patient of our service at Legacy Hospice of North Arkansas, and at the risk of giving away too much information, I'll just say that life hasn't dealt her a very fair hand when it comes to family matters. In our first encounter a few weeks ago, she came across as a very private woman resolute in the idea that she would die confined and alone with only her husband at her side. She believed that outsiders had nothing to contribute to her situation. We talked, and I tried to grasp where these feelings came from, but it seemed to no avail. The only common ground that came out of our conversation was that we both like horses, and that didn't seem like very much at the time.
About a month later I received a letter from her that contained some pictures of her with some of the many horses she owned. On the backs of the photographs she had written information about what was in the pictures and it was impressive. This lady had been a great horse trainer. But it was the letter that truly touched my heart. In it, she described the circumstances of her life, and knowing that I was a horse person too, she wanted to know if I could help her find a reason to go on living. She also said she wanted a horse to care for until she died.
I wasn't sure how I could accomplish this, but I decided I was going to make her wish come true, if at all possible. Because I, too, understand the solace a loving animal can provide in trying times. I started inquiring about finding a horse, and I came across David Ward, who works for the Arkansas Sheriff's Youth Ranch in Batesville. This amazing man who didn't know me at all listened to my story about Rajeana. Without hesitation he agreed to provide her with a gentle, well-trained horse. We worked out the details for the horse's delivery, and I called Rajeana to tell her what had just happened.
I've got some really great memories of my years in hospice, but none of them will ever measure up to the smile on Rajeana's face when that red pick-up truck pulling a horse trailer pulled into her yard. I will also never forget the tears of joy that we all shared as she led that horse down the ramp. She stood proudly facing us all, and with her smile, she showed us all that a reason to live comes in many forms.
I read somewhere long ago that we are judged by the number of smiles we create for others versus the amount of grief we leave behind. I hope so.