Recently I took care of a gentleman in the inpatient unit who was lingering in his dying process. The family was present and had said their goodbyes and given him permission to continue his journey. The patient was pain free and comfortable but not responsive anymore. I was sitting and listening to the daughters tell stories about the patient’s life. Once the patient had refused to transfer to a bigger hospital to get treatment for a heart arrhythmia until he had been shaved. The daughters laughingly said, “Once a marine, always a marine.”

In that moment it was like a lightbulb went on in the room. This dear man was waiting to die until someone shaved him because he could not go into eternity unshaved any more than he could transfer to a bigger hospital unshaved. I quickly collected the items and the daughter and I got to work shaving the patient explaining to him how we hadn’t understood what he needed but we were addressing the need to shave now. We laughed and cried through that shave as this “unresponsive” patient lifted his chin and attempted to puff his cheek to help the hands that trembled a bit in their grieving knowing this was the last shave.

There was something very sacred in the sounds of the rasp of the razor across the stubble covered chin. The weight of closure and the ending of a whole life balanced in the sight of that final smile when the face though gaunt was clean shaven and ready for inspection. This patient died thirty minutes later right on the dot at 9pm because per his daughters that is when last shavehe considered the day over. He was a marine to the end. I will forever be reminded that while the body may change the essence of each one will be present to the end. Honoring veterans is part of the essence of what we do at Pikes Peak Hospice and though the patients change we remain committed to giving back a portion of what these brave men and women have given in their service.

Although there are no official words to Taps, the most popular ones remind me of this patient. They are as follows:
Day is done, gone the sun from the hills, from the lake from the skies.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep, may the soldier or sailor God keep.
On the land or the deep. Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, must thou go when the day and night need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all to their rest.
Fades the light; and afar goeth the day. And the stars shineth bright.
Fare thee well; Day has gone, night is on.
Thanks and praise, for our days. ‘Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars, ‘Neath the sky.
As we go, this we know. God is nigh.

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