A Caregiver’s Story: Raja Hornstein

Raja Hornstein

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I’d been working as a hospice volunteer for about six years when my friend Nando fell ill. We had been lovers for many years and though we were separated, we were still close friends. And then one day she collapsed, fainted, and was taken to the hospital. It turned out to be leukemia.

First she spent a lot of time at Stanford Medical Center, getting chemotherapy. That period was extremely painful for her. Her chances of survival were low, because she had a pretty rare form of leukemia. But she was really going for it, trying to do anything she needed to do. I remember some horrendous times. I found her once crawling across the room, moaning in pain and dragging this IV stand behind her. She told me, “This is how it is most of the time”—excruciatingly painful.

She sent out fund-raising letters to people, asking for support, trying to gather people around her. We organized a small hospice team to take care of her as she got sicker. We had a twenty-four hour rotation. She wanted as much as possible to be conscious and accepting of the process.

About a month before she died, she decided to have a celebration for her dying. She didn’t want to be dead when it happened. So she invited friends—she had lots of friends—and about a hundred people showed up. I remember her mother and her father came. They had separated a long time before and hadn’t seen each other in ten years. But they each came to this party and the three of them danced together. She was barely able to stand, and she came out in this dress that someone had given her, this incredible dress, and just danced and danced. Afterward, she collapsed.

I often synchronized my breath with hers . . .

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