Honoring and Celebrating Veterans
After talking with Stephanie about her hospice volunteer experience (See Spotlight), it was clear to me that her work with the Hospice of the Valley Salutes program deserved its own highlight. A veteran herself, Stephanie takes great pride in honoring veterans in the care of Hospice with a special salute and ceremony of appreciation.
“We always talk about how we appreciate our veterans, but there is something special about recognizing a veteran who is making a life transition and is in the care of hospice,” she says. Stephanie described a simple salute ceremony where she presents a small flag (representing the branch of service) and lapel pin to the patient. Often times, the spouse is present along with some family members.
“Whenever I visit with a veteran and give a little homage by giving him that salute for his time in service, it is a momentous celebration,” she notes.
On one particular salute occasion, Stephanie joined a room full of people, including the patient’s spouse, children, grandchildren, Hospice team and Chaplain. She described the burst of camera flashes and balloons that the grandchildren waved upon delivering the veteran salute. The patient was clearly the celebrant of the day!
“We don’t often see moments of life as celebratory, but even in the smallest encounters, there is reason to celebrate,” Stephanie notes. These experiences are reminders to her, to seek out those little celebratory moments and treasure all interactions with patients, friends and family.
Wanting to know more about what veterans share during a visit/salute ceremony, Stephanie said it varies greatly. She mentioned one elderly gentleman, a veteran of World War II, who was in the Navy and stationed in the Pacific. He recalled firing weapons off a ship and having a heightened awareness of the loss of life on the receiving end of those guns. What was weighing heavily upon his heart while in hospice care was the possibility of being held accountable in the after life for the lives he had some part in destroying.
A profound question, one in which Stephanie noted provoked deep reflection within her about, “The manner in which we take part in the present without sometimes realizing its impact on the journey when we prepare to leave this earth.”
Not all veterans are willing or able to talk of their wartime experiences. But, many choose to share more light-hearted moments. Stephanie described one elderly gentleman who was reluctant to talk of his service in the Army, but happy to reminisce about being an aid to a prominent politician in Washington D.C., a job incorporating security detail for a Senator and his wife, Hollywood starlet, Elizabeth Taylor. The patient had a twinkle in his eye as he looked over at his wife, standing by his bedside, and said, “Well, someone had to do it!”
Whether profound questions or entertaining vignettes that result from Stephanie’s visits with veterans, she treasures every interaction and homage. And, she remembers that is her job to make the patients shine, and if she accomplishes this goal, Stephanie is fulfilled.
She may leave the room after the celebration, but I sense that gratitude always remains with the veterans she has honored.
See Stephanie Lopez Spotlight
Stephanie is a volunteer with Hospice of the Valley
- Seek out and honor people for their contributions
- Acknowledge and treasure life’s moments of celebration