In Memory of Melanie Collins
I learned this week of the death of a dear colleague, Melanie Collins, RN, BSN. In December 2016 I wrote a Blog about Melanie that is also in my book Creating A Culture of Care: Inspiration and Insights from a Hospice Leader.
To honor Melanie I'd like to share excerpts of that story here today.
In hospice, we don’t have anything to sell other than the services we provide. We don’t make a product; we don’t offer goods or trade. What we offer is love and care to people who are dying, and to their loved ones. Generally, the first order of hospice business is relieving someone’s physical suffering. It can be more challenging to relieve someone’s spiritual and emotional suffering who ask the unanswerable question, “Why me?”. It’s our calling to ease this human sufferingby caring for our fellow beings and empowering them to live their lives fully until they die.
When people speak of hospice and the gallant work they do, who do you think of? For me, it’s Melanie Collins.
Melanie is simply the walking embodiment of what the ancient word “hospice” was meant to express: a waystation for weary travelers in need of comfort and tender, loving expert care on their final journey in life.
Melanie first came into my life more than 35 years ago. We were searching for that one nurse who could offer tender, loving expert care to dying people in rural Putnam County Florida– and she appeared as if from the heavens. I have never met anyone like Melanie before or since. There was nothing you could put in front of her that she was not willing to tackle. Her focus was always on meeting the patients’ needs first, and she did everything with a smile. She would take call in the middle of night and drive to the most out-of-the-way places ("take the dirt road by the 7-11 then turn right by the big tree with the dead racoon next to it") to relieve a patient’s suffering and to make sure the family had what they needed. This was back in the days before cell phones, or GPS and she kept a stack of quarters in the car so that she could stop at the nearest payphone to call in about her patients.
Managing Melanie was an adventure – although in retrospect, I think it was really Melanie who was managing the rest of us. In those early days of hospice when we sometimes were writing the rules as we went along, it was often Melanie who would forge ahead to do what was needed first, then find a way to pay for it or to ask for forgiveness after the fact.
She met every challenge with a smile and a laugh and a prayer; her values and her actions were at all times in harmony and she helped us to be better people just by knowing her. Melanie’s character and virtues never wavered from the day I met her. Her faith, her family, her friends, and her work all received her dedication, respect and faithfulness, kindness and joy.
Dedicated hospice workers can never do it alone. Melanie’s entire family (husband Ricky, and children Beth and Tracy) were a part of hospice too; they all supported her to do this sacred work. I thank them for supporting her to live out her vocation, her ‘calling’. Her work these many years was not simply a career, it was indeed a ‘calling’.
One of the most profound lessons I ever learned, I learned from Melanie Collins. Growing up, my family generally was not comfortable saying the words “I love you” to one another. Not surprising, then, that in my youth I had the notion that “love” was strictly confined to romance, and that those three words were to be saved for a few special people. It was as if I’d been allotted a bucket of “I love you’s”, and if I used too many, I might run out.
Then I ran into Melanie Collins. As we began our work together Melanie would occasionally say, “I love you!”, and then go on about her work. At first, I felt uncomfortable having a woman who worked for me saying those three special words that were to be used only on rare occasions; but she was expanding my understanding of the word “love”. Melanie’s ease and grace in sharing what was in her heart, no matter who she was with, gave me the courage to begin to say those words, too. I can vividly remember speaking to my parents over the phone and ending the conversation by saying, “I love you”. And low and behold, I heard those three special words returned to me in their voices. What a gift! And it all began with Melanie Collins...
Image above: Melanie in her favorite chair at her retirement party in Palatka, FL
So, to you Ms. Melanie, thank you; you spent your life serving those in need, relieving suffering, empowering people, and spreading love. You are no doubt dancing in heaven and celebrating by sharing the love! I will miss you and I love you!
Remember, it’s never too late to say "I’m sorry" and never too late to say "I love you". Who do you need to say “I love you” to today? Go say it right now!
Love and Light