Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Al Martinez: A guiding hand in a hard time

Cross posted from the Daily News.

By Al Martinez, Columnist

The came like an army of saints, sometimes in multiples and sometimes one at a time.

Their mission was simple but compelling: to get us through a time of grief and anxiety.

I sing today of the Skirball Hospice program, medical personnel and volunteers working out of Encino to bring comfort to the dying and their families, in their homes, in rest homes or in hospitals.

They came to our house when doctors and chemo and machines could do no more for our daughter Cindy, who died last week of cancer.

Their job wasn't to keep her alive but to ease her gently into heaven without pain or the discomforts that often attend a person's last days. They bathed her, medicated her, prayed for her and held her hand.

One can imagine that kind of caring on a battlefield where a solder lay dying of his wounds in the blood and dust of combat, and being cared for by a medic or a hospital corpsman, because cancer too is a ruthless and mighty enemy with killing fields of its own.

The concept of hospice care is rooted in the 11th century as an element of moral compulsion to tend the terminally ill. Skirball Hospice began in Los Angeles in 2001 as a program for the Jewish Home funded in part by the Skirball Foundation. Its services are offered to the terminally ill and families 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Caring never sleeps.

We knew of them from Cindy's doctor, who recommended that she be placed under home hospice care, which is what she wanted, close to the things she loved, including three cats, Tigger, Sarah and Star, who rarely left her side.

A social worker came first, explained the insurance-covered, nondenominational program and then was followed by a multicultural army of nurses, assistant medical personnel, bathers, various other attendants and a rabbi. They were African-American, Asian, Latino, Russian and Caucasian. It didn't matter to them what our ethnic mix was. It never matters at Skirball.

Then came the drugs at various times, the morphine and tranquilizers and whatever else was required to sedate our daughter in her final weeks and to keep her free from pain. There came a hospital bed, too, a portable toilet, oxygen and items I've probably missed in the bustle of the process.

Some staff members appeared in person periodically and others as needed, responding to telephone calls deep into the night. They were there for us all in the final days of Cindy's life, holding our hand as well as hers.

When it became clear that the final moment was approaching, they sent a woman to bathe her and sit by her side until the night and the essence of Cindy merged at 1:35 a.m. I will be ever grateful to the hospice group members for the grace and gentility they displayed in guiding her into eternity. They are special.

Al Martinez writes a column on Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at almtz13@aol.com.

Read the original column here.

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