Living with Honor
Though his time in the Vietnam War made up only a fraction of his life, Ronald Girvin’s identity as an Air Force veteran still defines him nearly 50 years later. Now 69 and receiving hospice care for cancer, Ron becomes emotional when reminded of his service—even hearing the National Anthem can change his mood.
These past few months have been difficult for Ron. His frustrations mount each week as he loses more independence—the ability to get dressed, shave or even bathe on his own. His wife, Pat, struggles too. Being his sole caregiver takes both a physical and an emotional toll, and her husband is reluctant to give up what little control he has. Ron has put off accepting help from a hospice aide, but after talking it through with Pat and his social worker, Maureen Hulse, he agrees that it is time.
“You were a leader all your life and so independent, and to have that dwindle away is so difficult,” acknowledges Maureen. “We will help ease that,” she assures him. “You are not alone.”
Caring for More than the Illness
For many people facing serious illness, losing their independence is one of the most difficult things to accept. The loss of who they were and the fear of what’s to come may induce anxiety and unanswered spiritual questions. That’s why every Gilchrist patient’s team includes a social worker and a chaplain, in addition to a physician, nurse, hospice aide, bereavement counselor and volunteers.
Maureen discusses coping skills with Ron and Pat, and helps them work through feelings or conflicts. Over the past two months she has helped them prepare an advance directive, connected them with VA benefits and educated them on what to expect as the illness progresses. In between visits, they can call the Gilchrist Nurse Helpline, day or night. “Any question I have, they resolve it,” says Ron. “I am 100 percent pleased with everything.”
As Ron reflects back on his life, he speaks proudly of his 30-plus-year career in telecommunications engineering. But when the topic shifts to his service in the war, he shares only bits and pieces: he was stationed at Takhli Air Force Base, in Thailand; his assignment building bombs. He has never spoken about what his service has meant to him, but in the coming days he will meet with Gilchrist chaplain Tyra Curley to talk about matters of spiritual faith and perhaps feelings buried, unspoken or unresolved.
“The Gilchrist team have been angels to us.
We are so grateful.” -Ron and Pat Girvin
Honoring Those We Serve
Knowing Ron’s strong identity as a veteran, Maureen arranged for a “We Honor Veterans” ceremony to honor him. Gilchrist serves many veteran patients and recognizes that veterans have unique needs at the end of life. Our “We Honor Veterans” program offers veteran to veteran companionship, pinning ceremonies and other initiatives to ensure that the contributions and needs of veterans like Ron are recognized and respected.
When two volunteer veterans arrive at Ron’s house dressed in uniform to salute him for his service, he fights back tears. The ceremony opens with a prayer to relieve suffering and ease fear, followed by the pledge of allegiance and a military salute. Russ Griffey of the All Veterans Honor Guard pins a Vietnam veteran pin to Ron’s shirt “in honor and recognition of your service and sacrifice to your country,” and Air Force Vietnam veteran Sherman Canapp presents him with a framed certificate. He is given a stars and stripes blanket, hand knit with gratitude and admiration by Gilchrist volunteers.
“You don’t know how much you are appreciated,” Sherman tells him. “Thank you for your service.” As Ron’s emotions well over, Russ and Sherman stand tall, giving Ron a final salute before saying goodbye.
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