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10,000 Angels: A Song for “Mr. T”

For the many years I have been involved with hospice, I have seen and heard the heartwarming stories that involve poignant moments, butterflies and dragonflies. This is not one of those stories. This story is about a hospice patient, Mr. T., which I can only best describe as an old curmudgeon. He was on service for end-stage respiratory issues and only allowed the hospice nurse in the home because she supplied his drugs and kept the oxygen flowing without interruption. When the social worker went to visit, she left in tears as he would not allow her inside and scolded that she should never return. Forget getting a chaplain visit in. The poor wife looked beat down and exhausted, and the dog followed her around, assuming it was seeking some kind of protection from Mr. T.

And so it went until one day in interdisciplinary team meeting, the nurse reported that Mr. T. had taken a dramatic decline and had asked for our chaplain to visit. Then our chaplain reported she had made the visit and Mr. T. had a specific request. She had sheet music he had given her to a song he wanted sung at his memorial and asked if the chaplain could arrange that. Knowing that I had sung at multiple hospice-related services at skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and a few private funerals, she thought she would first ask me. I agreed to look at the music to see if it was in my range, as I was at the time, unfamiliar with the song. After a few practice runs, the song was presentable, so it was relayed to Mr. T. that he had his vocalist confirmed.

Seeking Ways to Say “Yes”

Then the most unusual thing happened.

Mr. T. wanted the vocalist to come to his home and sing it for him first. I drew pause as I realized I was being asked to audition for the soon to be deceased! We at hospice, who seek ways to say yes, said yes, I would come with the nurse’s next visit and sing for him, albeit without accompaniment.

So on the day of the visit, we entered this tiny home where Mr. T. had already placed himself at the dinette table facing the u‐shaped kitchen with his extra‐long oxygen tubing crossing the entire living room to his concentrator and well‐worn recliner. The nurse sat next to him on his left, then Mrs. T and finally the poor dog hovering at her feet. It was clear I was to stand in the kitchen and face the dinette. I felt as though I was in a bizarre home version of “America’s Got Talent.”

I asked if they were ready, Mr. T. nodded, and so I took a deep breath and sang the song, “10,000 Angels”. Mr. T. nodded his head in approval when I finished, so I assumed I had passed the audition, even though he never smiled or showed any sign of warmth. I shook his hand, told him it was a privilege to meet him and be able to sing for him. I reassured Mrs. T., took my leave and left the nurse to do her assessment.

By the next team meeting, I had learned that my own father was now on hospice services in Oklahoma and in order to make sure I did not fail my commitment to Mr. T. I made a tape of me of me saying “this is for you, Mr. T.” and singing “10,000 Angels” just in case I was in Oklahoma when Mr. T.’s memorial was to occur. The tape with an explanation was given to the family as my back up and time passed.

Mr. T’s Final Song

The day came when I heard that Mr. T. had died. I immediately called the chaplain to find out the date of the memorial so I would be sure to be available. And then she told me: there will be no memorial for Mr. T.

And there wasn’t.

Okay, here are the butterflies and dragonflies to this story. About four months after Mr. T.’s death, Mrs. T., who had been attending our bereavement group, came to my office. She looked wonderful and at first I did not recognize her. She brought me a copy of the cassette made for Mr. T. She told me that the tape had been very important to Mr. T and that he had listened to it often during his final days and was actually listening to his when he took his final breath.

The wife and son, the only family, decided not to have a memorial. But instead, the son had made a copy of my tape for himself and his mother and one for me, as the original was all but worn out. For them, the music was associated to a pleasant memory of Mr. T. For sure, when I hear this song, there is only one person that comes to my mind.

“This is for you, Mr. T.”

At Chapters Health System and its affiliatesGood Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to info@chaptershealth.org.

Gail Gerntrup is the Executive Director of Hospice of Okeechobee. The not-for-profit provides hospice and other end-of-life services for residents living in Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Martin counties.

grief journey

About Hospice of Okeechobee

In August 2019, Hospice of Okeechobee became the newest affiliate of Chapters Health System. Founded in 1983 by Okeechobee residents Paul Buxton, Fran Syfrett, Dorothy Bulger and others, Hospice of Okeechobee is a not-for-profit provider of hospice and other end-of-life services for residents living in OkeechobeeSt. Lucie and Martin counties.

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