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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Hospitals Bring Comfort, Companionship, and Even a Wedding to the Terminally Ill

Joy Daughtery Dickinson is executive editor of the Hospital Group of publications at AHC Media in Atlanta and long-time editor and writer of Same-Day Surgery. She has won nine national awards from the Specialized Information Publishers Association and the Association of Business Information & Media Companies for her blogging, news writing, and editing. She makes her home in southwest Georgia.

All she wanted was for her dad to see her get married before he died.

The wedding date was set: Oct. 10, 2015. But Sarah Williams wasn’t sure her dad would live to see it. He had been battling congestive heart failure for a long time.

Her dad, Joseph Williams, was worried too. He was hospitalized at UAB Hospital in Birmingham. Every time he had an X-ray or CT, he would say, “How am I going to get to my daughter’s wedding?”

“We knew Mr. Williams was very sick, and you could tell he and Sarah had a close relationship,” said CCU nurse Kelly Karell. “We wanted her to remember her father seeing her get married, and we wanted to do what we could to make it special for her.”

The staff and Joseph’s daughter worked with the chaplain to plan a “Blessing of Marriage” ceremony at the hospital just a couple of days before the official wedding. The nurses provided places for the bride and wedding party to change into their wedding clothes. The hospital chipped in with a cake and some food.

When Sarah walked into the hospital room wearing her wedding dress, her dad was surprised, but he responded with just the right words: “You look beautiful,” he told her.

Five days later Joseph passed away. “Words cannot express how amazing UAB Hospital was to my dad and to my family for having that ceremony,” said Sarah. “This selfless act helped change an unfortunate situation into a memory we will be able to cherish forever. I am so thankful for the nurses, doctors, pastoral care, and staff at UAB Hospital for helping create such a memorable day for us.”

Another hospital has adapted that idea of caring for dying patients and the critically ill by providing companions for them when family members and friends aren’t available. The Spiritual Care Department at MedStar Washington (DC) Hospital Center has launched the Not Alone Transition Companion program. In a patient’s final hours or days, the companions sit with the patients. They sometimes read to them or hold their hands.

“It is so good to tell a relative who cannot get to the hospital that their loved one is not alone,” said Father Anthony Akinlolu, assistant director of Spiritual Care. “The comfort and the presence of a companion at the bedside can lessen a patient’s anxiety.”

Hospital employees and people in the community have signed up as volunteers. One volunteer is Dot King, a senior administrative assistant in the hospital’s Engineering Department. “It is a blessing to me to be there,” Dot says. “We are all going to leave here one day, and no patient should be left alone.”

All volunteers are required to attend a short training session at the hospital. [If you would like more information about the program, contact the hospital’s Department of Spiritual Care at (202) 877-2045 or visit]

What can you do at your facility to bring comfort and companionship to those patients who are living their last days? (Editor’s note: Follow us on Twitter @HospitalReport.)