I Am on Hospice, Dying
LeAnn Michelle Johns
LeAnn was on hospice for eleven months in 2008 and was on hospice again between May 10, 2015, and early November, 2015. She has been afflicted with a number of conditions, including Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome since 1987, Myasthenia gravis since 1988, Lupus SLE since 1996, acute pancreatitis since 1996, transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes) since 2002, hypothyroid since 2013, cyclical neutropenia, anemia, leukopenia, seizure disorder, chronic and acute migraines, two mild heart attacks, and heart arrhythmias. Just before she went on hospice in May, 2015, she was down to 100 pounds.
When I visited LeAnn in May, 2015, just after she had been put on hospice for the second time, I recorded a conversation we had about dying. The following is based on that recording.
When I visited LeAnn a year later, I asked her to give me a simple, important truth that one could live by. Here it is: "Never pass up an opportunity to touch another person's life."
LeAnn is the mother of a former student of mine. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and can be contacted at praynhere at gmail.com.
– Cliff Williams
I am on hospice, but I am happy. I’m happy because I don’t have to fight with anybody anymore. I can just let things take their natural course. So I have peace.
I fought for peace. For a long, long time, though, I fought the wrong things. When I finally figured out what I needed to fight, peace simply came.
I had to fight the world’s definition of me as a success. I had to let go of that definition, because it was not God’s definition of me. When I realized that, I was completely, one hundred percent at peace.
I have a lot of happiness, here, now. I can just be, though not in the sense of being what I want to be. It’s deeper than that.
I have found that it doesn’t matter what other people think of me. I have never had this experience before.
Before, I felt that I was non-existent. But now I realize how important it is to be “nothing”—not nothing in a self-deprecating way or with low self-esteem, not nothing in the sense of curling up in a ball in a corner and becoming less of a person. I mean being less “important” in other people’s eyes and being very quiet and reflective. I mean that the less false importance I need, the more I become a person, more a human being.
The less I am, the more I am.
Before, I was living for other people’s expectations. I felt false, but I didn’t know it. I thought something was wrong with me, because those people were very happy to let me think there was something wrong with me. They did not have to examine their own lives. So I was a good scapegoat for them. Now I realize that I gave them way too much power over me.
When I let go of other people’s expectations, I felt free. Those expectations had imprisoned me. And, surprisingly, in letting go of them, I found dozens of people who liked me.
The important thing is that because I feel free from other people’s expectations, I don’t fear death.
That’s the connection. That’s where the peace comes from. I don’t sit in bed at night and worry or fret over what anybody else thinks of me. I spent many years of my life doing that. But that is not who I am anymore. Now, no one can define me.
Although I am 52, I have felt this way for only the last six months. I am finally free. Free at last!
I have always been a peaceful person. But now I have a whole new level of peace. People who were drawn to it before are even more drawn to it now. But that’s not the goal. The goal is just for me to have peace.
People see it in me. Every person who has come into this room has made some comment, such as, “I see this thing in you. You shine. You shine from the inside out.” Or “You are so happy. Given your circumstances, you shouldn’t be happy. You have every right not to be happy.”
And I say, “Oh, but that’s not true. I have every right to be happy, because I’m free.”
When other people notice my peace, that validates it for me. But I’m not looking for validation. That’s something else I let go of. I’m not fishing for it. They’re volunteering the information on their own.
All I can do is smile when they do that, because I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what their relationship with God is like, but I know that it’s a spiritual experience they are having.
It is also a very spiritual experience for me, very much so.
When I was on hospice before, in 2008, seven years ago, I was coded. That means that all of my body functions stopped and they pronounced me dead. I was at peace then as well. But now the peace I have is much deeper.
After I got off hospice in 2008, I had about five pretty decent years, health wise. There were a lot of times in those years, though, that I wondered, “Why didn’t you take me, God? What did I do wrong?” I couldn’t figure out why I was still here. I felt like a failure.
Now I realize that I needed that time, because now for the first time in my 52 years, I’m single. So I don’t wake up every morning in a panic, thinking, “Who does so and so need me to be today?” Now it’s all about, “What am I and God going to do today?” It’s like a partnership we have going.
I’m living for the moment when God says, “It’s time.” That’s all. Everything is in order. I feel that I have a complete sense of being finished with all the relationships I’m in.
I am in a good place. There’s no anchor anywhere. I don’t feel that I have any unfinished business. My time now is bonus time. I am just enjoying every day.
My life has more meaning now than it ever did. That’s the complete opposite of what I was taught and what I believed for a long time, in that my worth used to be defined by my position or my job or my career or my list of friends or my church affiliation or my possessions—all of those things—and now I literally have nothing. But I have relationships.
There’s nothing material I want. All my time now is about relationships. Even if it’s a few minutes on the phone or a text or counseling people online, it’s all about people.
Now I realize that’s what life is. A quote: “We’re here to walk each other home.” That’s what our job is.
I have a big smile on my face, because I’m happy.