The Smallest Among Us

The little girl in the picture isn’t so little anymore. Just last month we had her eleventh birthday. Time flies and kids grow up fast! It seems like yesterday, but ten years ago I was the Bereavement Coordinator of a hospice in New Orleans. I was also working on a Master’s degree and my wife worked part-time for a local pediatrician. Nothing was more important than being the dad of this one-year-old little girl.  

    I was apprehensive about working with the hospice at the beginning. It was a great company and a great position, but I was unsure how my wife and I could juggle all our responsibilities at the time…primarily our little girl. I told the hospice my concern and they came up with a generous solution. They suggested if there were times when watching my daughter and making visits conflicted, I could take her with me. Not only that, but they would make her their first “Baby Therapy Volunteer”. Seemed like a perfect solution. The only thing I became concerned about was how she would handle nursing homes. Often children don’t handle those environments very well. Regardless, it was worth a shot. 

    Not too long into the job I found there were times I needed to bring my little one with me. The first time I did, we went and visited a man with dementia in a nursing home. Again, I didn’t know how she would do in there. After we sat with him for several minutes it was time for us to go. I picked her up and she bent down and planted the biggest kiss on the man’s nose. I was shocked by this. And for the first time during the visit he began to smile and not just a little smile, but a huge one...I’ll never forget that. 

We went on to have several great visits like that one, but the best memory I have of that season is when I took her to visit Ms. Jenny. Ms. Jenny was a sharp-minded, very kind, elderly lady. On our first visit with her my little girl picked up a little tea cup (shown in the picture) and she pretended to drink out of it. Ms. Jenny laughed so hard every time she saw this. Ms. Jenny made sure I brought my daughter every time I visited and every time my daughter would pick up that cup and “drink” out of it. I’d be in big trouble if I came by myself. 

    After several weeks had passed my family went on vacation to Florida. I’ve always found it difficult to take vacation because it’s hard to not worry about the patients while being away. On my first day back I was informed that after I left Ms. Jenny began to rapidly decline and she died while I was gone. I was heartbroken. I would have liked to have been there with her and her family. The nurse, who told me about her death, also said, “Oh and there’s one more thing…Ms. Jenny’s daughter gave me this envelope with your name on it. She said her mom had given it to her when she started to decline.” I was not expecting anything and could not imagine what it was.  I opened it up it and smiled as I saw it was the little tea cup out of which my daughter would pretend to drink. 

That little teacup isn’t fancy and not worth anything but I do love to bring it out and show my eleven year old daughter the difference she made in a lady’s life. As a parent, it serves as such a great reminder for her and her younger brothers that anyone, at any age, and any size can always make a big difference. 

Billy Mitchell , Bereavement Coordinator