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HPH Hospice's Legacy Program lets patients tell their story, their way

Bill Kiesel has a loving wife, Helen, a successful son married to a "doll'' of a woman, and a friendly Burmese cat named Cocoa.

But the story he wants to pass on — the personal history he will leave forever with his family, friends and fellow "aviation nuts'' — is about the Midget Mustang airplane he labored over in his spare time between the ages of 43 and 68.

"A lot of people build a kit. I didn't want to build a kit. I started from scratch,'' Kiesel said.

At 92, Kiesel, of Spring Hill, is retired from a career in airplane manufacturing that took him all over the country. He suffers from heart disease serious enough that he is now in the care of HPH Hospice.

Hospice's mission is to help people die with dignity and comfort. And doing what Kiesel did on Friday — tell his story, his way — can offer patients both, said Dawn Woodward, director of HPH's east Pasco office.

Woodward got the idea for videotaping patients' stories in 2003, after reading about another hospice agency that recorded patients' thoughts in written journals — and by thinking back to the death of her own sister, Diana McClennan, at age 36 in 1979.

McClennan's son, who was 5 years old at the time, knows her only from distant memories, pictures and family stories.

"As far as a record of her voice and her mannerisms, it wasn't there. Even for me, as the youngest sister, that was such a big void,'' Woodward said. "So when I read about the journals, I said, 'How about if we take it one step further.' ''

The first subject for her project, now called the Legacy Program, made her realize it could do more than she imagined, that it could even allow patients to have a place in their families' future.

The man told his children, who were then the parents of young boys and girls, to be patient with them when they grew to be teenagers. He passed on lessons about overcoming life's frustrations to his grandkids that he knew they wouldn't appreciate for years.

"It gives (patients) the freedom to say to a 5-year-old what they might not be able to understand. But they will understand it when they are 12 or 16 or 18,'' Woodward said.

What else?

Well, "a lot of times we as human beings don't say what we want to communicate,'' she said. "Some men, especially, find it very difficult to communicate with their sons.''

So, in Legacy videos passed down to family members, she said, many male patients tell their sons "how much they truly love them, how proud they are of them.''

It's a relief for parents to say what they might have wanted to say for years, she said. It's also "an invaluable thing for an adult child to hear.''

I was hoping Kiesel would share something similarly dramatic when I watched volunteer Ed Keefe tape his video at the Kiesels' house in Spring Hill.

But Kiesel didn't seem to have any deep regrets about his working life in aviation factories and at a gas processing plant in Odessa, Texas. "I was always the boss,'' he said.

Judging from her confident manner and the fact that her marriage had lasted 63 years, maybe Helen Kiesel didn't need a taped declaration of her husband's love. Their son is comfortably settled with a career in health care administration, and they don't have any grandchildren.

"We have grandcats,'' Helen Kiesel said.

So, Kiesel, neatly dressed in blue knit shirt and a black web belt with a Marine Corps emblem on the buckle, talked a little about his service in the Pacific during World War II and a lot about his plane.

Growing up in New Jersey, he was so crazy about airplanes that he would run outside his house when he heard one pass.

"And that just stuck,'' he said.

He began building his Mustang — a small, agile craft first manufactured as a propeller-driven racer in the late 1940s — in the basement of a house in Frederick, Okla., in about 1960.

When he moved his family to Kansas, back to Oklahoma, and then to two separate towns in Texas, he also had to move the plane and build successively larger sheds where he could work on it.

The final one, in Odessa, was 20 feet by 30 feet, and so solid it was later turned into an apartment.

Kiesel explained how he formed the precise dimples in the plane's aluminum shell so the head of each rivet would be flush to the surface. He told about cutting the oval-shaped opening near the floor of the cockpit, so he could make repairs on the controls, and about the plane's first flight, in Odessa, in 1985.

After a few adjustments, he said, his Mustang was so stable "you could let go of the stick and it would keep on flying.''

That was the part of his story he chose to tell, the part of his legacy he wanted to leave behind. Which is the whole point.

HPH Hospice's Legacy Program lets patients tell their story, their way 10/20/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 10:20am]
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