Eight years ago today my Dad died on service with Namaste Hospice. Each moment that led to his last physical moment on this earth has directed my career path. Each day I get up and go to work to do a job that I am passionate about. A job where I can change people’s lives; where I can change their deaths. A job that I can care for and support the front line staff that is providing the most important care of many people’s lives. It is a job that brings me so much fulfillment and happiness. Although some days, days like today, I feel so incredibly sad. I feel angry that my Dad died. Being a Daddy’s girl, even at 35 I miss my Daddy. I miss spending Christmas with him, or watching him read a story to my girls. I miss everything that he never had the chance to do.
The anniversary of his death brings what is already with me every day to the surface. Remembering how much I miss him. Day to day I remember him by carrying on the strong work ethic that he instilled in me. Every night when I tuck my daughters in to bed, I see him in them and know that he is still here. Every December 30th I pull out old photo albums and remember the strong, loving father that taught me how to ride a bike, and taught me the importance of getting back up when I fell off. When I look at the pictures from the last year of his life. That year that I saw more strength in one person than I have ever seen before. That year he got up and fought cancer day in and day out. He was in tremendous pain. He didn’t eat for months but instead lived off of tube feedings, and IV nutrition. I see my strong father, I don’t see a sick man. When I look at photos from my wedding, I don’t see a man who lost 80 pounds. I see a loving father who fought tooth and nail to make it out of the ICU so he could “walk” down the aisle with me. The wheelchair is hardly visible in that memory, him being there on my big day is what I remember.
When I look at the photographs from the Forget-Me-Not project I don’t see people who are dying. I don’t see people who are elderly. I see people who have stories to tell and so much life and love left in their eyes. I see people who I can’t wait to read their life review.
The vision for this project started three weeks before my dad died. It started when I signed him on to hospice on my birthday. I sat at his bedside, and he shared what would be his last birthday gift to me. The very same hospital he held me in his arms for the very first time 27 years before that. My mom asked if she could take a picture and I quickly said no. I didn’t think about what he wanted, I just was sad because my Dad was dying and why would I want a photograph to remember that moment? Every year on my birthday, I think back to that moment and wish that it had been captured. I close my eyes and remember that moment. I pray that I will always be able to close my eyes and see that moment. Even though my dad was entering the last stages of his life, it was a beautiful moment that will forever remain a part of my life, and a part of who I am. I shared this feeling with other members of the Namaste team and they were enthusiastic to find a way to invite our patients to honor this journey and leave something for their family that they could always remember them by. The name for this project was chosen with great meaning; the Forget-Me-Not plants symbolize true love, and they are given or used to decorate gifts with the hope that the recipient will not forget the giver. They also symbolize faithful love and memories. Each time we receive a portrait we send one to the family and then hang a second in the Namaste Home Health & Hospice conference room. When we have team meetings we are brought back to the beauty of each patient and the legacy they leave behind.
We have volunteer photographers take these beautiful photos, and volunteers work with the patients to write a lovely brief life review. I hope that everyone can see the beauty and strength in themselves when they are dying, as well as their family members feeling honored to remember this very special moment, one of the last moments with their loved one.
To learn more about this project, or to volunteer as a photographer or writer please reach out to Katie Sue (Katelyn.VanValkenbur@namaste-health.com) or Jackie Zinkgraf (email@example.com)