Sandi Ellis has witnessed 3,600 deaths in the past 12 years. She calls her job a “sacred holiness.”
Ellis is bereavement coordinator and social work regional mentor for Vistacare Family Hospice in Temple.
“My basic role while working in hospice is to help the terminally ill come to the point where it is easier for them to leave this world spiritually, emotionally and physically ready to say goodbye.”
In 1998, she earned her bachelor’s in social work at the age of 46.
“I took the death and dying class 13 years ago, and it made me want to be a social worker. I knew it was what the Lord wanted me to do.”
Ellis interned at Vista Care and two days after graduation became a full-time
She explains death to her patients through a metaphor.
“Imagine going to the nicest restaurant with the love of your life and you’re dressed and ready to go. You get to the restaurant and the host tells you, ‘Just a minute, we want everything to be perfect.’ You wait and the host returns to say, ‘Now your table is ready.’ That is the same picture as Jesus, at the moment of your death, saying ‘Your table is now ready. You will join me at the grandest banquet you could ever imagine.’”
Ellis returns every semester to speak to David Myers’ UMHB death and dying class about hospice care.
Junior nursing major Jacquie Case said hearing Ellis’ experiences has been an eye opener.
“I could tell how she was speaking from her heart,” she said. “She showed her emotion and didn’t hold anything back.”
Junior nursing major Imani Innocent said he appreciated her sharing
the tales of her patients during their last moments on this earth.
“She showed so much compassion,” he said. “She helps her patients leave this life peacefully.”
Ellis doesn’t focus on death itself, but on the time one has left.
“I help the family know with assurance that they can’t stop their terminally
ill loved one from dying, and that they need to just focus on service to their loved one,” she said.
She has led 100 people to Christ.
“There is a difference when a Christian and a non-believer die. I have seen the room light up.”
One of her fondest memories, is caring for a 61-year-old woman from
Killeen who was bed bound. Ellis arranged for the woman’s daughter
and two granddaughters to move to Killeen to help her.
“Every time I visited the woman, she was listening to a transistor radio,
aluminum foil on the antenna for better reception,” Ellis said. “She loved
listening to oldies, but the station never came in very clear.”
When the woman passed away, Ellis came to comfort the family.
“I drove to the house, and the two granddaughters were screaming and
weeping, ‘Nannie died, we didn’t get to say goodbye’ …. I called Father
David at St. Joseph’s Cathedral over to do an anointing of the body, to give the girls some sort of peace.”
Father David turned off the radio to quiet the room.
“When he said his final prayer and was putting his stuff away, all of
a sudden that radio turned on to the oldies station and was clearer than ever before,” she said.
The granddaughters were not afraid.
“They began to jump up and down, shouting, ‘Nannie’s OK, she’s telling us she’s OK.’ We didn’t understand it, but at that very moment, those girls got the message from the Lord. They didn’t get to say goodbye but she was able to tell them hello.” Ellis said what she does is a calling, not a job.
“I promise my patients that I will always tell their stories. That way they will always live on,” she said. “Death is not the hopeless end. It’s the beginning of endless hope.”