Shirley Lyke, Hospice Volunteer

During the last few weeks before George Lyke died in September 2002, he and his wife Shirley had those all-important discussions about practical matters that she needed to know before he passed on.

The most important conversation, though, wasn't practical: "During the alert times we got in the smooches and hugs, and told each other how much we loved each other," Shirley said.

It was not an easy time for Shirley, watching the man she loved for more than a half-century slowly died of cancer before her eyes.

But Shirley had assistance in the transition. "I'm a Christian, very much so," she said. "I said, Lord, you are the potter and I am the clay. Do with me what you want."

And while her profound religious spirit helped immensely, so too did the folks at Borgess Hospice, a service of Borgess Visiting Nurses, who visited the Lyke's Portage home regularly and made every effort to make George's last days as comfortable as possible.

"They all are the most wonderful people, all of them," Shirley said.

And it didn't stop after George died. Shirley attended grief sessions offered by Borgess Hospice and became so impressed by their caring attitude that she has since become a Hospice volunteer.

"It's my way of giving back what I received," she said. "I thought, too, that if I could help others I could help myself."

Shirley and George were born and raised in Kalamazoo. They dated before he enlisted in the military and was sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for paratrooper school. Shirley's parents both died while she was in high school and she went to live with her grandparents.

A series of events forced her to leave high school and, at age 17, she traveled to Georgia where she and George were married on September 21, 1952. She completed her high school education there.

After a three-year tour in the military, the Lykes returned to Kalamazoo where George had a variety of jobs, retiring from Durametallic Corp. in 1995 after 30 years with the company. They had a son, Tim, now 37.

In 1997, George was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to his lungs. He underwent surgeries and started chemotherapy, which continued almost unabated until his death.

"He was so ill that last summer, and he was so weak near the end," Shirley said. "But he willed himself to stay alive so we could have our 50th anniversary. On September 21, 2002, I told him, 'You made it, George. You can go now.'"

George died that day.

"That was the best gift—staying with me until our anniversary," she said.

Under Hospice care, George remained at the couple's home until the end. "Once we started with Hospice, we knew it was the end stage," she said. "George so loved to go for a Sunday drive, but we had to tell him that he wouldn't be going anywhere anymore."

"After that he really went down."

Despite the loss, though, Shirley said that she "was so pleased with Hospice. They did everything they could and they kept him comfortable."

Later, when the people at Hospice asked Shirley to volunteer, she hesitated. But two years ago she agreed, a decision she has not regretted. Today she has four clients who she visits or calls on the telephone, and she also visits people in nursing homes.

Every Saturday night she goes to a Hospice patient's home so that the care-giver can go to Mass.

She also gives time and energy to her church, Almena United Methodist. "Since my husband died, I am much more involved with my church," she said. "The church family really helped me get through that September."

Shirley has become such an integral part of Borgess Hospice that she was asked to give a speech at the recent volunteer recognition dinner.

"I didn't know what to say, but I talked for 30 minutes," she said. "I told them that, after all this time, I still wake up in the middle of the night and reach out to touch George. Sometimes during the day I'll still turn to ask him a question or tell him something."

"I was astounded how many people came up to me after the talk and told me that they do the same thing."