“What’s that piece of furniture in the corner?” I ask, following a long period of not talking, trying to assess whether my client was truly interested in the news program playing or if he wanted to converse.
“Is it a record player?” I point to the area behind the hospital bed, which has become a living room fixture.
“It is,” he begins, “Except, I converted the bottom into storage to fit the 78s…”
I can generally find a topic or two per visit that will entice my client into storytelling. Sometimes not, if he is feeling too tired or he is in pain. I can always count on learning something new myself, though, regardless. Whether it is how to sit quietly and follow another’s lead, or how to keep my heart open as I maintain boundaries rooted in compassion, my hospice doula visits are consistently eye-opening.
Today, this record player has me thinking about the passage of time. What I really want to know is likely impossible to answer: When was the last time it was played? What was that scene? Who was around? Was it a person alone lamenting over a broken heart? Or, a family gathered for a holiday ritual? Was it simply background music for a housecleaning session? Was it sad? Uplifting? Memorable in the least? And most of all, did anyone have any inkling it would be the very last time an album would be played, its farewell song?
Do we often know when it is the “last” of something? For people living with a terminal diagnosis there are occasions when we do—when it is a “bucket list” type of event like a final trip to dip your toes in the ocean, or one last vacation with family, or putting the finishing touches on a love letter. These are orchestrated and planned with thoughtful attention.
Other “lasts” seem more elusive and subtle, even mundane. For example, the last time you pay a bill or drive a vehicle. Or, that last outing out of the house. What about the last time you sleep in your bed before perhaps moving to a favorite recliner for good. How about the last food you taste. The very last hug you give. That final smile you smile.
If we knew it were the last time, would it mean more? Would it be sweeter? Would we savor it? Would we linger?
“It’s a beautiful piece of furniture, nonetheless,” I remark.
Maybe the full expression of its beauty is not only in the entertainment it provided, but also this opportunity to rekindle memories. In its dusty state of becoming seemingly obsolete, it managed to serve as a visual reminder of life lived. It sparked conversation about moments and music from decades ago, and allowed us to escape the distractions of the world to immerse ourselves in story and in connection.