I’m constantly in awe of the little things hospice does to help families cope.

Madame Olga was a true diva. A life long voice teacher, her two daughters’ sole purpose in life was to cater to their mother’s ego.  Madame Olga was well known and spent her life dedicated to her craft. She was still giving voice lessons at 97, a week before her stroke. It was obvious to the family that any physical impairment, let alone loosing the ability to sing, would be impossible to live with.  She came to the “house” to spend her final days.  Although mostly unresponsive, completely unable to communicate, every time the daughters would play their mother’s music, her eyes would open and a tear would fall.

After she passed away, the nurse did what she always does; offered the daughters a chance to help the nurse bathe the body.  Hesitatingly, both daughters consented.

The experience was life changing. They both later told how that symbolic act of cleaning their mother’s body, helped both of them let go. The eldest, Gertrude, though in her late 60’s had spent her whole life taking care of her mother, to the neglect of her own life. As she bathed the lifeless body before her, she wept and verbally forgave her mother. The bathing ritual was a way to cleanse her own soul of the harbored resentment at the larger-than-life mother who was never good at being “mom”.  As both daughters cleaned her wrinkled strong hands, and washed her crooked feet, they were also able to reminisce and say  a final good bye.

Cleaning, bathing and preparing a body after death has been a part of cultures for ages. It is only in our modern death denying culture that we’ve delegated the task to others. It’s refreshing for me to hear that hospice at least offers the option. For some, like the daughters I met, it was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.

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