A River Runs Through Him – A Hospice Patient’s Sentimental Return to the Water’s Edge

LeeGraham805The Mississippi River runs through Lee Graham's memories. He and his wife, Shirley, owned a cabin on the river for decades. It's where his kids learned to waterski, and where he spent many sunny days boating and fishing with family and friends. And for years, it was the first place he'd head after clocking out as assistant chief of the Rochester Police Department. "When I'd get through work … I'd race down to the river to get there and have as much river enjoyment as possible," he tells us. It didn't matter if he touched the water. "Just to be in the surroundings" was enough. "It's kind of hard to explain," he says. "I just enjoyed being there." (We understand.)

Lee recently spent another memorable day on the river, thanks to a program called Sentimental Journeys. The program, a partnership between Mayo Clinic Hospice and Gold Cross Ambulance, helps hospice patients take a special trip or attend an event, like a wedding or graduation, that might not be possible without assistance. When hospice staff told the Grahams about the program, they knew exactly where they wanted to go. LeeandShirleyGraham500"If any place is meaningful and loaded with memories and experiences for our family, it has to be the Mississippi," says Lee's daughter, Diane, calling the river "a theme" of her parents' "summertime life."

So one perfect June day, Ian Shaw and Sylvia Roznik of Gold Cross drove Lee to the river's edge in Lake City, Minnesota. Shirley and Diane were there, too, along with Diane's husband, Bill Weir. "The river was calm, the sky a clear blue," Diane tells us. The trip also included an appearance by a bald eagle and a stop in Wabasha, Minnesota, at Slippery's Tavern and Restaurant. The family invited Shaw and Roznik to join them for lunch, not a surprising gesture considering Lee readily admits to being "people-oriented." After all, those trips to the river, he tells us, were not about being alone. "We went there to socialize," he says. Shaw and Roznik "were a new audience for both my parents to tell their stories," Diane says with a smile.

LeeattheWaterAt one point during the day, Diane asked her dad how he was feeling. "It's hard to describe," he responded. Initially, Diane thought he might be in pain. But then Lee found the word he was searching for. "Ideal," he said. "It doesn't feel good, it doesn't feel great. It feels ideal."

That's another Mississippi memory the Graham family will treasure. Lee "was just really full of joy at the end of the day," Diane tells us, calling the experience a "soulful" one for her dad. It gave him an opportunity "to come back to a familiar, beautiful home-like place" that he thought he might not see again. It's a gift she's grateful to Mayo Clinic Hospice and Gold Cross for providing. "It was a way to savor the life you have lived," she says, "and keep it going."

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