When anyone asks me what I do, I always say I get to tell stories for a living.
I love to share stories of our good works on our website and social media, in our Caring Connections magazine and with local media. In my four years with Hosparus Health, I’ve heard lots of glowing praise about our care from many of the families we’ve helped.
But you see, “heard” is the operative word here.
I’m a writer and marketing professional, so I’ve never worked in direct patient care. I don’t usually get to see the love and compassion that seems to overflow from the hearts of our care teams. I only hear about it after the fact. Then I take the inspiring comments families share with me, and I turn them into an article or Facebook post.
This week, I was fortunate to witness our care teams’ compassion and dedication firsthand, and it moved me to tears. Hearing about it and actually seeing it — wow, just wow. I thought I knew how amazing our people on the front lines are, but I really had no idea.
I was asked to visit the Hosparus Inpatient Care Unit (HICC) downtown to get the details and snap a few photos of a wedding that was to take place there. I was expecting to see two people in street clothes participate in a quick and somber ceremony with a justice of the peace. I thought it was really nice that the HICC staff would host it, of course, but I assumed there wasn’t much planning or effort involved.
When I got there, I learned from Community Director Melissa Burchett and Charge Nurse Bill Meredith that no, this was a full-blown wedding with a cake, champagne, decorations and all the other trimmings. From rearranging furniture for the ceremony in a classroom, to running last-minute errands, to setting aside space where the bridal party could get ready, the HICC staff moved heaven and earth to make it happen.
And then I learned why.
HICC patient Otto Knop was actively dying of cancer. He had only days left, and his last wish was to see his youngest daughter, Kristi, marry the love of her life, Andrew Stewart. The HICC staff helped the family coordinate an entire wedding in less than 48 hours, moving it up from its original date in June. (If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you know this was no small feat.) Melissa and Bill told me that everyone at the HICC pitched in, even those who weren’t on Otto’s care team.
Bill and the rest of his caregivers made sure Otto was as comfortable as possible, nestling him into a wheelchair so he could hold Kristi’s hand as they went down the aisle together. There was a clear sense that Otto was doing all he could to hold onto life long enough to celebrate this special day.
The most touching moment for me came when Kristi leaned down to her father right before the ceremony and said, “Daddy, you just have to do this one last thing, and then you can be done.” I am telling you, there was not a dry eye in the house, mine included.
The converted classroom-to-chapel was overflowing with friends and family as Kristi and Andrew said their vows. Along with the rest of the Hosparus Health team, I watched from the hall, all of us alternating between sniffling and smiling.
The biggest surprise to me was how much joy and laughter there was in that room. Kristi was radiant and beaming. Once the chairs were cleared out of the classroom for the reception, there was music and dancing! At one point, the whole family was singing “Teenage Wasteland” by The Who, which I learned was Otto’s favorite band.
As a career storyteller, even I can’t come up with adequate words to describe how amazing this experience was for me, and I didn’t meet the family until about 30 minutes before the ceremony. I can’t imagine how meaningful it was to the Knops, Stewarts and the hands-on HICC staff.
Conceptually, I’ve always known Hosparus Health improves quality of life for patients and families, but to see it in action was truly humbling. In the two hours I was there, the Knops and Stewarts thanked the HICC staff over and over for making the wedding possible. I think they were able to celebrate so freely because they knew both Otto and the rest of the family were in good hands.
Otto remained in good hands until he passed away in the early morning hours on Friday, March 16. It was the peaceful experience the family had wished for, Melissa said. My heart goes out to everyone who loved him.
I’ve heard from more than a few direct care staff over the years who told me they felt a calling to serve others and that hospice chose them, not the other way around. After this emotional, heartwarming experience, I absolutely believe it. Every single one is an angel here on earth.
Thanks to everyone at the HICC for showing me how the work you do brings beauty and light during such a difficult time. I’m not strong enough to do what you do, but I feel so privileged to get to write about it.