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.”

Text Only
World, nation, state
  • Lower-income teens don’t get enough sleep

    African-American high school students and boys in low- to middle-income families reported short, fragmented sleep, and that could play a role in their health risks, researchers reported Monday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Health agencies try to counter mumps outbreak

    Health agencies trying to stem a large and growing mumps outbreak are advising college, school and even day care leaders to make sure central Ohio students are immunized and to separate them from those who haven’t been vaccinated and those who are infected.

    April 23, 2014

  • An ocean of broken hearts

    Lee Byung-soo says he knew, when he saw his 15-year-old son’s body in the tent. It could not have been more horrifically obvious. But he wanted so much for him to be alive.

    April 22, 2014

  • Biden conferring with Ukranian leader over what to do
    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Kiev on Monday for talks with Ukraine’s embattled interim leaders as Russia’s top diplomat blamed Washington for instigating the crisis that threatens to escalate into armed conflict between the two former Soviet republics.

    April 22, 2014

  • Panel’s role in Cleveland police ruling questioned

    A lawyer for families of men killed in separate 2012 shootings by Cleveland police — including a 137-bullet chase under federal investigation — is questioning a grand jury’s role in a recent county prosecutor’s ruling.

    April 21, 2014

  • Gender gap under Ohio governor nearly $10 an hour

    A newspaper investigation has found the average pay gap between men and women in the offices of four of Ohio’s five elected statewide officials has grown to as much as almost $10 an hour, as it’s shrunk to under a dollar across the rest of state government.

    April 21, 2014

  • OBIT Rubin Carter Box_Lind.jpg Boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter dies at 76

    Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer whose wrongful murder conviction became an international symbol of racial injustice, died Sunday. He was 76.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • MAG-kramer25p-Janae-O-Neal.jpg Kramer the labradoodle soothes students, staff at middle school

    Once upon a time there was a dog that went to middle school.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ohio sees record high heroin overdose deaths

    A record number of Ohioans died from heroin-related overdoses in 2012, the state Department of Health said as it released the newest available figures for a problem that’s been called an epidemic and a public health crisis.

    April 19, 2014

  • Ohio’s jobless rate dips to 6.1 percent in March

    Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped in March to 6.1 percent, its lowest level in six years, according to state job figures released Friday.

    April 19, 2014

House Ads

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