Sharing the Gift of Legacy
Jack Pittman knows what it means to serve. As a veteran he has served our country for over twenty years and continues to serve his community while in retirement as a hospice volunteer. Initially, hospice was not on his radar in terms of where he wanted to spend his leisure time, but after a short time with the Red Cross and other organizations, he found his heart was not fully present in the work. At the suggestion of a friend, Jack agreed to try the volunteer program at the local hospice. It was here that he found his home and where he felt like he was contributing to his full capacity. Almost immediately, his channeled his talents into the hospice Valor Program.
The Valor Program at Big Bend Hospice honors veterans for their service. Most of the patients Jack visits have served in the Korean or Vietnam wars, whether in service for two or thirty-two years, recognizing every veteran for their contributions. And, the importance of this recognition and validation of life’s work is something that Jack feels passionately about.
“I think there are many rewards of working with veterans, they remind me of the importance of legacy in life,” Jack said.
Jack’s special contribution to the Valor Program consists of creating personal life summaries, a legacy document for every veteran. It is presented as part of the bedside ceremony. Recognizing that veterans rarely share their experiences (the good, bad and ugly) with their families, Jack understands the importance of doing so, especially for generations that follow. As a gift to his own family, Jack created a legacy document years ago, sharing highlights of his service in Vietnam and passing those stories along to his grand children. When he did this, his own son expressed deep gratitude and noted that fear had prevented him from asking Jack questions about his deployment.
The legacy document is one of several validating acts of the valor ceremony. Others include the presentation of a letter and certificate of appreciation, asking a spouse or adult child at the ceremony to attach an honored veteran lapel pin, rendering a formal salute, singing and even belting out one last Army shout, “Hooaah!”. Jack reminisced about one patient, limited in his ability to communicate; yet, when the patient’s son encouraged him to repeat the “Hooaah!” cry that Jack shouted, he miraculously repeated “Hooooaahh” in a whispered voice. Another patient, struggling with severe dementia, responded similarly to an invitation to sing the Marine Corp Hymn at the conclusion of his bedside ceremony. Although his eyes wandered and were unfocused, it was the music inspired the patient to sit up straight, at attention, while singing every single word of the hymn! It is experiences like this these that remind Jack of the elevated importance of validating service to country.
Service to country is something that Jack was unable to explore with his own father who served in WWII. However, through the Valor Program, Jack is honored to celebrate with folks who represent The Greatest Generation, most of whom are now in their late nineties. Their stories are remarkable, from harrowing accounts of an aeronautic door gunner to incidents that induced lifelong PTSD. Of particular importance is the Honor Flight in which hospice provides an opportunity for WWII vets to travel to Washington D.C. to view the war memorials. One patient expressed his longing to see these monuments for a very long time. When he finally did, a peace settled over him and two days later he died.
By witnessing this peace, jack has come to appreciate what hospice does for all his patients. He reflects upon his experiences this way,
“Everybody’s going to die. When it’s my turn, I feel encouraged to know that the care and concern, even the love, that hospice provides will gently ease me out of this life.”
Until then, Jack can’t ever imagine doing something other than being a part of the Hospice Valor Program and celebrating veterans.
“They teach you so much about life and about them….it’s just amazing what they did,” he said.
On behalf of our country and hospice, we thank you for your amazing contributions Jack.
Jack is a volunteer with Big Bend Hospice.
- Writing a life legacy is a powerful expression of gratitude for service to country
- Remember the power of validating the veterans’ service