They Comfort Strangers, So No One Dies Alone

Nov 24, 2017
Originally published on November 24, 2017 8:02 am

When patients are near death, and don't have loved ones to be with them, David Wynn and Carolyn Lyon rush to the hospital.

"They have no one for various reasons, you know, they've outlived family, they've never married," Lyon says.

For about six years, Lyon has been comforting patients in their final hours at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif.; for Wynn, it's been about nine years.

"For some reason I always wonder about the person's mother," David Wynn says. "She saw him first, and I saw him last. It was her and me that are the bookends of this person's life. So each time that I leave a patient who has died, there is this element of sadness."

But this kind of work also has its rewards. Wynn remembers one man who was estranged from his family.

"I was sitting there with him and I heard somebody at the door. Turns out it's his son," Wynn says. "And he, I guess, felt a little bit uncomfortable, and so he asked me to stay."

Then, the patient's daughter came in. "These are people who hadn't seen each other in maybe 10 or 20 years," Wynn says.

While the family members exchanged apologies, Wynn recalls the daughter saying, "I don't even know why I was angry at you, I don't even remember."

"And they said, 'We're going to try to be a family again,' " Wynn says.

"You know, we talk about the last senses to go would be the sense of touch and hearing," Wynn says. "And I hope that there was enough left of the dad that he had some sense that this bad situation had been healed through his death."

Wynn says he felt honored, simply to witness that reconciliation, at the end of the man's life.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which means we hear from StoryCorps. Many of us spent Thanksgiving with family and friends. And today, we have a story about those who are alone. David Wynn and Carolyn Lyon volunteer at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. And when patients who are near death do not have loved ones to be with them, David and Carolyn step in.

CAROLYN LYON: They have no one for various reasons. You know, they've outlived family. They've never married.

DAVID WYNN: For some reason, I always wonder about the person's mother. She saw him first, and I saw him last. It was her and me that are the bookends of this person's life. So each time that I leave a patient who has died, there is this element of sadness. But I remember this one gentleman that I was with. The nurses said that he was estranged from his family. And I was sitting there with him. And I heard somebody at the door. Turns out it's his son. And he, I guess, felt a little bit uncomfortable, and so he asked me to stay. And then his sister came in. And these are people who hadn't seen each other in maybe 10 or 20 years. They were apologizing to each other.

I remember the daughter saying, you know, I don't even know why I was angry at you. I don't even remember. And they made this reconciliation at the very end of his life like that. And they said, we're going to try to be a family again. You know, we talk about the last senses to go would be the sense of touch and hearing. And I hope that there was enough left of the dad that he had some sense that this bad situation had been healed through his death. And I felt like, you know, just this feeling of honor that I was part of this.

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INSKEEP: David Wynn and Carolyn Lyon for StoryCorps in Santa Ana, Calif. Their story will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Remember, StoryCorps' Great Thanksgiving Listen is this week. If you would like to record with your loved ones, you can find out how by going to thegreatlisten.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.