A Farewell Kiss

If you read this blog, you know that every two weeks Lillian and I have been visiting the Hospice of the Chesapeake’s Mandarin House.

I’m still new to these visits, so I’m a bit nervous when I ring the front door bell. “Hospice” suggests the folks there are getting ready to check out, right? But some of their patients get better and leave. You can never be sure which sort of exit you’re dealing with.

Stephen was clearly headed more toward heaven than the highway. He was young, but his disease had taken his ability to move from the neck down. He could only nod. He could not speak.

The staff told me he had his own therapy dog back home. We were certain he’d be happy to see Lillian.

What I struggle with is, how much Lillian. Lilly is 90 pounds of flopping, exuberant Rhodesian Ridgeback. She can be a lot. Since Stephen couldn’t speak I wasn’t sure how liberally my dog should be applied. We nosed our way into his room and Lilly sniffed around at his elbow.

“Would you like to say hello to my dog?” I asked.

Boy, could he nod.

Lilly put her paws on the side of the bed and stuck her nose in Stephen’s face. I stood ready to pull her back. But that’s when I saw what else Stephen could do . He could kiss back. He puckered his lips while Lilly launched into a full face soaking. She even got his ears. Stephen had the look of a man being baptized. Lilly was pretty proud of herself for finding such a willing mug. We hung around for a bit, then left to visit other patients but came back for some farewell smooching.

The average stay for patients at hospice is two weeks. It must have been the beginning of Stephen’s – because when we returned, he’d made his exit, definitely to heaven, where dogs… and men… have wings.

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