Friday’s Weekend Column
A Community Thank You

by James Glaser
August 27, 2004

After Charmaine died, (my wife) I knew I had to thank the Community and the Hospice program for all of their help. It wasn't easy to do this and I kept putting it off. I sat down this week and finished it and it will be in our local paper this week. I also would like to thank all the people on the net who sent their prayers.

by James Glaser

She told me she was going to die three years ago, but I didn't believe her. I couldn't, I loved her and needed her. Then last November she said she would never go to a hospital again and I knew she was going to die.

Like I said, I loved Charmaine, but how could I handle this? I felt inadequate to the task. In Vietnam I had held a friend as he was dying, but that only took a matter of hours and I still can cry about that and he was just a friend. Charmaine was my life and I had no idea about what to do.

I didn't try to talk her out of this decision because Charmaine had been in terrible pain for the last ten years. In the back of my mind I knew this day was coming, but not now. It wouldn't matter if she waited and had one more operation, because I wouldn't have been ready then.

It is so strange, that your love for somebody soars higher when you know you are going to lose them. The day she told me, she looked better than she ever had. She looked delicate and oh so fine, she smiled at me and was at peace with herself and then we both cried.

I knew that I needed help if I was going to make Charmaine's wish of dying at home come true and I also knew I would have to suck up my emotions and be strong even though my guts were sick.

Charmaine had a doctor in Bemidji, Lisa Harmon. She never had a women doctor before Doctor Harmon, but they formed a close bond and Charmaine really trusted her and said she would know what to do and she did. At the clinic, she told us about the Hospice Program and said that she would still be Charmaine's doctor all the way to the end.

I was a mess by this time thinking hard all the time and biting my lip to keep the tears from my eyes. Charmaine was crying all the time now and said that it did her a lot of good. Then one day she told me that her tears were over and she put on a smile that stayed there, except for a few times, until the night she died.

You don't just die at home, it takes a long time and it kind of goes in stages. Every day you lose a little bit, but it is important that the person can keep their dignity and that is where the Hospice Program comes into play.

I wasn't sure at all about having strangers in our house doing things for Charmaine, that I thought I should be doing. It is hard when you realize that you can't keep up a 24/7 shift for very long and you are forced to accept outside help.

The Hospice program came out to the house and there was quite a bit of paper work to fill out, but they sent Rita Baird, a Registered Nurse, originally from Northome, who now lives down in Blackduck. What was nice, is that Charmaine knew her as she had helped her a few years before as a Home Health Care Nurse.

Rita explained everything to us and even told us how people die. She didn't pull any punches. Dying is serious and it was refreshing for both Charmaine and me to talk to someone who really knew what was going to happen, somebody who was not going to bullshit us to make us feel better.

Like I said, Charmaine was in a lot of pain, but Hospice took care of that. They had drugs that took the pain away and kept her mind clear. Why she couldn't have these drugs before she decided to die is a mystery to me even today.

Rita kept real close tabs on Charmaine all the way through her last months. Toward the end she was there every day and when she had time off other Nurses, equally as devoted, would fill in.

I was taught everything I needed to know about Charmaine's medical equipment. We were given a hospital bed so she could stay on the first floor and I did everything I could to make the house as comfortable for her as possible.

The real angel in the Hospice Program was Vonnie Weinberg, a woman who Charmaine and I and my kids soon fell in love with. Vonnie first came to help Charmaine take a bath twice a week. I would go to town and every time I came back, Charmaine was in a better mood, sometimes she was laughing.

Later on, it was Vonnie who gave Charmaine baths in her bed and she would always brush out her hair and braid it. When my daughters came up she would have them help and that gave them the sense that they were really doing something.

All the months that this ordeal was going on, so many neighbors, even people we didn't know were helping out. One day Charmaine was crying so hard and as I held her and asked what I could do, she said she never knew that there were so many nice people in Northome and she didn't know how she could thank them. Charmaine was a strong women and it was hard for her to accept that people were so willing to help in her hour of need.

Hospice isn't just there to help a person die, they are also there for their loved ones, so you don't become a total basket case worrying. They have people who will stay at your house for several hours so that you can take a break. We tried that once, but I couldn't do it and neither could Charmaine. What worked for us, was having Charmaine's best friend, Marge Cook come out to sit and talk. I felt good about it and could tell Charmaine did too.

During all these months of hospice Charmaine was taking care of me too. We spent many hours talking about my future and what she thought I should do. Before she got real bad, Charmaine wrote me several letters and notes hoping to get me on the right track and she hid them all over the house.

Just this week, I found the last one. I know it is the last one because she told me it was. She also told me where all her notes and letters could be found as she didn't want me to stumble on to one months from now.

Her last note to me was on a "post it" note pad. I pulled off one paper and there was a note on the next sheet. Like in every letter she said it was time to get on with my life and that she would always love me and she knew that I would love her too, but enough time had gone by and I should fall in love again. The last thing she wrote was "Easy for me to say."

So I guess I am writing this story about all the compassion the people in our community had for Charmaine and also to thank the wonderful people in the Hospice Program for their work. I have no idea of how to thank everyone, but knowing just how many people up here really care about their neighbors makes this a wonderful place to live. Thank You All.

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