The Star Democrat
Giving thanks for Ernest, a living angel at Talbot Hospice
“”I hope to give them a sense that I really do care for them when I’m caring for them.”
My mom was admitted to Talbot Hospice at the end of February 2021. She was 76, beautiful, kind, creative and loved the Eastern Shore. She moved to St. Michaels 10 years ago from Chevy Chase. She was frail and weak, unable to comprehend what was going on around her when she arrived at Talbot House. She knew her daughters. We were with her daily. It was clear she was going through the final phases of life, just like we read in the small booklet we received when she arrived. One constant I became aware of almost immediately was the sparkle in her eye, a sense of peace and relaxation whenever Ernest entered her room. She’d somehow get enough energy and presence to say to Ernest, “Thank you, you are my angel,” to which Ernest would reply, “it’s you who is the angel.” Ernest was my mother’s nurse while she was at Talbot House. Leery of nursing homes and hospices to begin with, because of stories and having no experience of my own, I sat back and watched the first few times Ernest was in the room. I was in awe of him. My mom was right, he was an angel. He handled her with such grace, dignity, respect and care, and a gentleness that mesmerized me, it was as though time stood still when I watched him clean her, feed her, gently brush her hair or put moisturizer on her face, to give her just one more fleeting moment to feel pretty.There was (and is) a light around him. His quiet, calm confidence and his care for her ran deep to his core.
My mom passed quietly 10 days after her arrival. Ernest was not on schedule the day she died.
I hadn’t reached out or seen Ernest again until one night in October, when the Talbot House had an event outside to read the names of all who passed in 2021 while in their care. Ernest read my mothers name.
After the ceremony, I went up to him to hug Ernest and tell him what he and his care meant to us, and to my mom. I told him over and over, “She thought you were an angel, I do too.”
We stood there and talked for awhile. We got in the subject of how long he’d been doing this line of work. “Thirty years,” he said. My mind immediately thought of his home life: a wife, children — a quiet but good life.
I asked Ernest about his wife, and his daughter. Ernest told me the most unbelievable story.When his daughter was 15, she met a guy who was 21. They started to date. Ernest and his wife were not happy with this arrangement, nor did they approve of it. So Ernest had a serious talk with his daughter, who agreed with her father that she would stop seeing this man. She broke it off and went back to focusing on her studies.
One morning at her bus stop, waiting to go to school, Ernest’s daughter was talking with friends about teenage stuff. Out of nowhere, this man she’d just broken up with came charging at her with a knife. This man stabbed Ernest’s daughter 41 times, killing her there at the bus stop.
Ernest tells me this story in the parking lot immediately following the hospice serenity. Families were walking around starting at the ground, in hopes of finding the brick dedicated to and purchased for their loved one’s memory.
I stood looking Ernest in the eyes, tears on my cheeks, thinking, “How is this man standing here?”
I asked him, “How do you get through something like that?”
His answer: “Taking care of people like your mom, people who come here to die. I hope to give them a sense of dignity, a sense that I really do care for them when I’m caring for them.”
And all I can do in response to that is hug Ernest and thank him and tell him, you truly are an angel.