Fulfilling a Wish to Speak to a Mother One Last Time

By Larry Kinneer
State of the Heart Hospice

The task ahead was a challenging one. One of our patients, a 40-year-old woman named Alicia had one major wish: to talk to her mother again.

Alicia, a mother of three children under four, hadn’t seen her own mother since she had left her home in the Philippines five years before. She very much wanted to speak to her one more time. She had sent letters to her mother, but her mother could not read nor write. Alicia’s brothers, who normally would read and write for her, were working in the mountains. In her letters, Alicia had told her mother of her illness, but did not know if her mother received the letters or if someone had read them to her. The phone call was very important to her.

Normally a phone call to a parent would not be a complicated wish to fulfill. However, in this case, it was not simple. First, her mother did not have a phone. Then, there was a language barrier to overcome on the part of those helping. And lastly, there was a 12-hour time difference to contend with.

We were able to eventually connect Alicia with her mother by phone, but it was a big team effort on the part of the State of the Heart Hospice.

Hospice social worker Darlene Pearson explained how important it was to Alicia to talk with her mother. “I know it would mean a lot to her if she could just talk with her mother one more time,” she said. Darlene was encouraging about making contact with her mother.

Hospice nurse Debbie Abernathy reiterated what Darlene said. “I feel she wants to talk with her mother,” Debbie explained, “because I think it will bring closure to her life. It is as if she is waiting for something before she leaves us.”
The wheels went into motion when Debbie brought to the hospice staff the name of a church that was near Alicia’s mother’s home in the Philippines. Alicia had explained to Debbie that if contact could be made with the church, then someone there could go get her mother, who had no telephone, and they could talk. The task at that point seemed surmountable and an initial phone call was made by hospice staff. However, it quickly became apparent that there was a language barrier. More assistance was needed.

A call to Ohio Congressman John Boehner’s office was made to see if they could help in any way. Staff there provided the number of the Philippine Embassy in Washington. After an initial call with little response, another was made. The explanation from officials in Washington was that Ohio fell into the territory covered by the Philippine Consulate in Chicago. A call was made to the Chicago office, and the response was that there were so many dialects in the Philippines that it would be nearly impossible to find someone to help make the connection. Alicia’s mother lived in the province of Davao which had its own unique dialect.

Meanwhile, Alicia’s condition deteriorated, and the efforts almost stalled with words of discouragement from officials contacted. It was going to take some extreme intervention and assistance if Alicia and her mother would have that final phone conversation.

Enter the Angel Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Van Wert, OH that works to grant wishes for terminally ill adults throughout Ohio. A call was made and contact established with Debra Tracey, Wish Coordinator.

“This is an unusual request,” was Deb’s reply when approached about the phone call to the Philippines. “Let me think about this a little,” she added. There was more conversation, then a thought. “I have a friend Sally who is from the Philippines and she may help with the language part of this situation. Let me talk with her after she gets off work.” 
From out of the clouds, the sun appeared. Not only was Sally willing to help, she was also familiar with the Davao dialect. She worked an entire evening, working around the fact there was a 12-hour time difference between the U.S. and the Philippines. Late in the evening of March 12, Sally successfully established contact with someone at the church. The woman who answered the phone knew Alicia’s mother. A time for a call was set:  9 p.m. Ohio time and 9 a.m. Philippines time, Thursday, March 12. The next challenge was getting a cell phone with inter-continental calling capability.

Enter a new player in the mix of hospice team members. Jamey French, State of the Heart Marketing and Development Director had a phone with international calling capability that Alicia could use. The phone was loaned to Alicia and her family for the all important call.

The evening of the call arrived. Hospice aide Jessica Noggle was there caring for Alicia and helping with the phone call.

“I wanted Alicia to make that call so bad,” said Jessica. “Alicia was uncertain that her mother knew that she was dying. It was important to let her know that and that this would likely be their last conversation.”

The phone call lasted about 20 minutes. Alicia’s two older daughters got on the phone and “said hi and told their grandmother they loved her,” Jessica said. Neither had ever seen their Philippine grandmother.

Alicia spoke in her native Philippine dialect, Jessica explained. “I wanted her to make sure she told her mother about her condition. I know she did as there were times when the call became emotional for Alicia.”

“I know the phone call meant a lot to her,” said Jessica. “Her family of 11 brothers and sisters were important to her. She talked about them and her mother a lot. I sense relief on her part that she and her mother had that final conversation.

Alicia passed quietly from this life surrounded by her family in their home. She knew that she had told her mother how much she loved her and heard her mother’s final goodbye.