Friendship grows one spoonful at a time at Hospice

Published 6:29 pm Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Enjoying a meal with friends and family is a fun social time.

You share stories, laughs – catch up on life’s events. What happens when a loved one, because of age or illness, is no longer able to lift a fork or spoon to eat? Do the emotional benefits of that important social interaction end?

Hospice of the Carolina Foothills Feeding Program pairs specially-trained volunteers with patients in their homes, at nursing facilities and at Hospice House, who are unable to feed themselves.

Sandra Tipton Nash enjoys lunch with friend Joyce Hansborough through the Hospice of the Carolina Foothills Feeding Program every Tuesday and Thursday. (photo submitted by Marsha Van Hecke)

Sandra Tipton Nash enjoys lunch with friend Joyce Hansborough through the Hospice of the Carolina Foothills Feeding Program every Tuesday and Thursday. (photo submitted by Marsha Van Hecke)

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As is the case with any dining experience, close bonds are often formed over meals. One such friendship has deepened for nearly two years.

Sandra Tipton Nash came to HOCF as a volunteer after a knee injury ended her career in the food brokerage industry. In 1999, when Sandra was the primary caregiver for her father, she observed the difference a compassionate hospice volunteer made in his life, simply by having a conversation. Those chats, she says, meant the world to him. She promised, then, she would volunteer after she retired. Two years ago she made good on that commitment and Joyce Hansborough came into her life.

“From day one Ms. Joyce and I seemed to make a connection,” Sandra says. “Most days she is unable to communicate except in one word responses, only a few phrases in two years. She smiles and shakes her head, ‘yes,’ but the words are hard for her.”

At 89 years old, Joyce suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. She has days when she communicates very little and days when she’s relatively expressive.

“About a year ago, she looked at me, and said, ‘I like your dress,’” Sandra says. “I was so excited. I was telling the staff, ‘She likes my dress.’”

Sandra says Joyce must have been quite a lady, and shares an incident that occurred during one of her visits.

“Not long ago, I was telling her that I had been mowing grass earlier, and she frowned at me, shook her finger at me, and said ‘no more.’ So we sat, and I explained that I knew she understood that sometimes women have to be independent, have to take care of things for themselves and that was what I was doing.”

Sandra volunteers for the HOCF Feeding Program at White Oak Manor every Tuesday and Thursday. She doesn’t tell Joyce she’s there to feed her. She tells her they’re both going to have a “girly lunch.” They’re just a couple of girls having lunch together.

On Labor Day, Sandra makes a special visit, and learns that Joyce was not feeling well. She has refused to eat or drink for three days, but she reacts when she hears Sandra’s voice, and when Sandra asks if she’d take some lunch for her, she nods.

“Joyce, I’m sorry you don’t feel good today, ‘Darlin’.” Sandra talks in a soothing, compassionate voice, and in a few minutes she coaxes Joyce to take a sip of water.

“Does that cold water feel good?” Sandra asks. Joyce responds with a big smile.

As she continues to offer Joyce sips of water, Sandra tells her about her day and her life.

“Today is a special day for me, Joyce. Today is my wedding anniversary. I came to have lunch with you today.”

Though Sandra’s husband is deceased, she likes to tell Joyce what she’s been doing and what’s going on in her life.

“She can’t tell me about hers, so I just tell her about mine,” Sandra says, “Because that way, we get to have conversation, and she responds back to me in a positive manner. Even if it’s nothing but a smile or a head shake, so I know that she is hearing me.”

After a while, Joyce’s meal arrives and Sandra raises a teaspoon of mashed potatoes to Joyce’s lips. She tests it and takes a small bite. Sandra never takes her eyes off Joyce, making sure she swallows before offering a bit of pureed beef, followed by a sip of sweet tea.

“Joyce loves sweets,” Sandra says, and when Joyce presses her lips tight, refusing the next spoon of beef, Sandra switches to orange sherbet and Joyce brightens up, eager to eat.