Once A Veteran, Always A Veteran
George Comert was determined to live independently forever, but that was not to be. As his health declined, he grew weaker and less steady on his feet. After a bad fall, even he had to agree the time had come to move in with his daughter, Lynn Besch, and her family.
Despite Lynn and her family’s best efforts to engage and reassure him, George grew quieter and more withdrawn by the day. Physically, he was losing ground as well. On George’s primary care doctor’s recommendation, his family reached out to Frederick Health Hospice to learn more about the comfort-oriented care they offer for patients, and the family services available for caregivers.
Lynn remembers the day Frederick Health Hospice’s care team came to her home to talk about the services that were available. She was relieved to hear that her Dad could remain with them, but that there would be medical care to relieve his symptoms and make him more comfortable. Hospice would provide professional, certified aides to help with George’s personal needs, and—if requested-- social workers, professional counselors, and a chaplain would also be available to visit.
Beyond medical care and emotional support, Lynn learned that day that Frederick Health Hospice offered several additional support programs. She was especially intrigued to hear about Hospice’s Veterans Program, designed to recognize and support those who had served in the US Armed Forces.
“My dad was very proud of his military service,” said Lynn. “He had served aboard ship in the US Navy during the Korea War and, although he didn’t talk about it a lot while we were growing up, we all knew that he was honored to have done his part to serve and protect the United States.”
Included in the plan of care that Lynn set up for George that day was a visit from Hospice’s Veterans Liaison, Keith Midberry. Keith, a retired veteran himself, has led the We Honor Veterans program, a collaboration between the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs, at Frederick Health Hospice since 2017.
“For the past three years, I’ve had the honor of visiting hundreds of Frederick Health Hospice patients who have served in the US Armed Services,” says Midberry, “recognizing their service, and thanking them for their sacrifice…and each visit has been unique and deeply rewarding in its own way.”
In almost all cases, he says, no matter how advanced their illness is or how disengaged the patient may have been previously, they will sit up straighter, look him in the eye, and return his salute. “I usually conduct a short ceremony…we play their service song, and I give them a hat and a pin. Most importantly, I say “thank you” to them on behalf of a grateful community and nation. Whether they speak or not, the look in their eyes speaks volumes.”
On the day he visited George Comert, however, Midberry got a surprise. After an upbeat, dynamic conversation that left the 89-year-old veteran’s family pleasantly flabbergasted, Keith was making his way to his car when George’s daughter caught up with him. Touched beyond words by the interaction she had just witnessed between her father and his new friend, Lynn said “thank you” to Keith in a way he never expected.
“Several years ago, I made a quilt through the Quilts of Valor Foundation,” said Lynn. “These are special quilts that are not supposed to be “gifted” but rather “awarded” to veterans, and then registered and recorded at the Foundation in perpetuity. I made the quilt to the organization’s very specific standards, and then just put it away. I didn’t know who I was supposed to give it to, but once I met Keith, I knew.”
“In the days leading up to Keith’s visit, Dad had been very withdrawn,” said Lynn. “After talking to Keith, he changed completely. Keith gave my sisters and me our Dad back, and our kids their grandfather back…for a short time at least. It was a gift beyond measure, and one of the many things for which I will always be grateful to Frederick Health Hospice for.”
George Comert died at home surrounded by his family on December 5, 2020.