‘Semper Fi, Brother’ : Volunteer Alison Malachowski

Carroll Hospice is proud to care for and recognize military veterans at the end of life.

In honor of Veterans Day, Carroll Hospice’s We Honor Veterans volunteers share their
thoughts and experiences.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Alison Malachowski shares one of her most memorable
volunteer experiences:

It was early in the evening when I got a text from Kim Benson, Carroll Hospice’s
volunteer coordinator, with a request to give a We Honor Veterans presentation to a
dying Marine.

I arrived at their family home around 10:30 p.m. There was a group of close family
members there, and a quick sweep of their faces showed exhaustion and much love
and respect for this war veteran. Their living room was full of memories from his service
during the war while in the Marine Corps. He lay in bed on his back with his head turned
away from where I was standing. His daughter explained that he hadn’t moved and had
been unresponsive since early that morning. His wife quietly added, “But he is still
here.”

I asked them what kind of a person he was, and I heard treasured stories of his youth,
time during the war and of his being a father. The Marine never moved or gave
indication he had heard their loving words. I then proceeded with the presentation.
Having also served in the Marine Corps, I always address other Marines as “My Brother
Marine” or “My Sister Marine” and did so when addressing him.

As I concluded the brief presentation, I thanked him for keeping our nation safe and
raised my hand to honor him with a salute. His right arm suddenly began to tremble as
he struggled to try and return my salute. His family gasped and exclaimed, “His eyes
are closed and his head is turned! How can he see you salute?” I reassured them and
explained I had experienced this often with unresponsive military patients and that dying
people could still hear.

Upon me saying this, his wife said loudly, “Then why does he stay?! We told him
everything would be fine and we would be okay! He has been so sick for so long, but he
won’t let go!” Her exhaustion, stress and grief had come to the surface, and she was
expressing what many are fearful to say out loud. Her family tried to silence her, but I
quickly reaffirmed her feeling as being normal. I also explained that the sense of
responsibility and commitment was strong in many war veterans and some struggled
with leaving the family they love behind. “This might help him,” I told the family.

Then I spoke to him, one Marine to another, in a clear, firm voice. “Marine. There is a
formation on the other side and your platoon is waiting for you. This Marine here has
your back. You can go now and be with your Brothers.”

He suddenly sat up, wide eyed, and tried to get out of bed. I gently put my hand on him
and told him he needed to find the other way to leave. I explained to the very startled
family that dying doesn’t come with instructions so he was just figuring out how to leave
his body. He immediately calmed and returned to his quiet state.

The next day I got a text from Kim saying my Marine Brother passed peacefully shortly
after I left.

Semper Fi, Brother, Rest In Peace.

Thank you to all veterans for your selfless sacrifice for our country.

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