The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

September 2, 2013

Students record patients’ life stories

PHILADELPHIA — Saadiya Ali, Erica Tuttle and Nancy Manion could not say goodbye. When they reached the screen door of Manion’s neat little Bensalem house, they hesitated on the threshold, hugging one another, promising to stay in touch, fighting back tears.

The three women had met only in mid-July. They had spoken only a half-dozen times. And Manion had done most of the talking.

But in those six weeks, they had given one another the kind of comfort, kindness and enlightenment that some friends - and many relatives - never achieve in a lifetime.

“It’s like I’ve got my grandma again,” said Ali, 20, a premed student at Drexel University.

“It meant so much to me, hearing stories from back in the day,” said her classmate Tuttle, also 20, a biology major preparing to become a veterinarian.

“My girls,” Manion said, stroking their hair. “They helped me get through some very bad days.”

Their brief but intense relationship began in an English class - “It’s a Beautiful Life” - that was offered for the first time at Drexel over the summer. Designed in cooperation with Crossroads Hospice, an agency that provides care and comfort to the terminally ill, the class assigned students to interview dying patients and write their life stories.

Nancy Manion’s husband, John, an 86-year-old retired professor of accounting at Temple University, had volunteered to be interviewed by students. But a few days before Ali and Tuttle were scheduled to meet him, he died of a stroke.

To honor John’s memory, his widow asked if she could tell his story to the students.

And so, once a week for six weeks, she dug out scrapbooks and old photographs, brewed a pot of Eight O’Clock coffee, sat down with the young women at the plastic cherry-print tablecloth in her kitchen, and regaled them with tales.

Tales like the one about how they met in the blizzard of 1996, when he, the chivalrous neighbor, offered her a ride across Roosevelt Boulevard. The one about how, when John learned she had allowed a cashier to undercharge her for a box of Miracle-Gro, he shamed her into donating the ill-gotten gain to charity. And the one about how he was such a proper dresser that he sometimes wore a suit when he mowed the lawn.

“He was a very unassuming man that did so much good quietly,” Manion said. “Talking about him, it was a break from the heartache.”

Drexel English professor Ken Bingham, who teaches the course, said that from the moment it was proposed, the concept struck him as brilliant.

It is common for hospice patients to question the meaning of their lives, said Kimberly Mumper, volunteer coordinator for Crossroads Hospice.

They benefit from the therapeutic comfort that comes from having someone’s undivided attention, someone who is interested in hearing about childhood traumas, regrets and victories, however small, memories of parents long gone and bits of hard-won wisdom. And they find, Mumper said, that the telling itself can provide unexpected perspective on the past.

Few of the patients had the fancy degrees or jobs that earn public recognition. They were gravestone engravers, factory workers and homemakers.

Yet describing all they have seen and experienced “gives the patients a sense of accomplishment.”

For many of the students, the listening turned out to be comforting as well.

“Most of them are young,” Bingham said. “They’re afraid of death. By facing it, they find it’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The students’ journals, he said, “have been breathtaking.”

One young woman wrote: “I got off on the fourth floor of St. Ignatius and immediately the fear struck. There were patients everywhere, sitting, talking to themselves, laughing, singing. It was the most melancholic scenery I’ve ever experienced. I wanted to run home. I have no idea what kept my feet moving. I found 427A and knocked lightly on the door. .

“I pulled up a chair and he flew. The words came rushing out as if they had been cramped inside him for decades. There is so much beauty in the soul of this man; it’s hard to believe light didn’t pour out with his words.”

In class Aug. 27, the last day of the course, students presented projects they had done for and about the patients they had followed.

A scrapbook with photographs of Gloria, who loved gardening, cleaning and smoking cigarettes and who died Aug. 2 at 90 with the rich scent of nicotine still on her breath.

A letter written to Tommy, a 76-year-old karate master and ex-convict, thanking him for teaching her the difference between being alone and being lonely and “the art of getting lost in my own thoughts.”

And, finally, a collection of stories and photographs, with a sound track, that Ali and Tuttle made for Nancy Manion.

“I think sometimes you don’t value a person until you’ve lost them,” Ali said. On the doorstep, when they left her after their last visit, they promised to return.

“It’s not over yet,” Ali said. “It never will be.”

1
Text Only
World, nation, state
  • Planes with Ukraine bodies arrive in Netherlands

    Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash site which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

    July 24, 2014

  • UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

    A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

    July 24, 2014

  • Air Algerie jet with 116 on board crashes in Mali

    An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over restive Mali, and its wreckage was found near the border of neighboring Burkina Faso — the third major international aviation disaster in a week.

    July 24, 2014

  • Troubled childhoods may prompt men to volunteer for military service

    In the era of the all-volunteer U.S. military, men who served are more than twice as likely as those who never did to have been sexually abused as children and to have grown up around domestic violence and substance abuse, a new study has found.

    July 24, 2014

  • As poverty continues to rise, fewer Ohioans are receiving state aid

    The number of Ohioans receiving public assistance continues to drop even while poverty increases, raising questions about how the state helps the poor.

    July 24, 2014

  • ’Saltwater’ from fracking spill much different from ocean water

    In early July, a million gallons of salty drilling waste spilled from a pipeline onto a steep hillside in western North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation. The waste — a byproduct of oil and gas production — has now reached a tributary of Lake Sakakawea, which provides drinking water to the reservation.

    July 24, 2014

  • 40 bodies from jet solemnly returned to Dutch soil

    Victims of the Malaysian jetliner shot down over Ukraine returned at last Wednesday to Dutch soil in 40 wooden coffins, solemnly and gently carried to 40 identical hearses, flags at half-staff flapping in the wind.

    July 23, 2014

  • U.S. pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

    The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

    July 23, 2014

  • GROUNDED U.S., other countries ban flights to and from Israel

    A Hamas rocket exploded Tuesday near Israel’s main airport, prompting a ban on all flights from the U.S. and many from Europe and Canada as aviation authorities responded to the shock of seeing a civilian jetliner shot down over Ukraine.

    July 23, 2014

  • REPORT: Retaliation by supervisors common at VA

    A pharmacy supervisor at the VA was placed on leave after complaining about errors and delays in delivering medications to patients at a hospital in Palo Alto, California. In Pennsylvania, a doctor was removed from clinical work after complaining that on-call doctors were refusing to go to a VA hospital in Wilkes-Barre.

    July 22, 2014

House Ads
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video