The newspaper story in this post was written by a hospice patient of ours after her Volunteer, Ellen, did a hand casting for her and her husband. Our patient was so moved by it, she wrote a lovely article in one of our local newspapers.
My mom fought to live with courage and determination. We spent months going to treatments three days a week, transfusions, and ER visits because her will to live was so strong. I could see things were not going well and that treatments were not helping, but she wanted to fight and it was her battle … I was just there to support and do all I could to help.
One day, we went to treatment and could hardly get her out of the car and into the house. She was so weak, so tired, and her life was fading. Her cancer clinic could not bring themselves to tell her that treatments were not working, but I knew. I believe they wanted her to make the choice, knowing she did not want to die. Sometimes making choices is out of our hands. As caregivers, we must often take situations into our own hands and know hospice is ours to use.
I called for hospice, and even though we only had hospice for less than 24 hours, our hospice Nurse brought a calmness and understanding of what was needed. My mom was in discomfort from pressure on her lungs. She did not share this or possibly didn’t realize it herself. Her Nurse immediately identified the problem and took the necessary steps to alleviate her pain. My mom opened her eyes, smiled at her Nurse, and said, “I love you!” At that moment, my mom knew she would be comfortable and could finally relax. As a family, we were able to be together peacefully. She had a calm night and passed quietly onto her next journey the following day.
With hospice we received understanding, assurance, and direction at a time when our emotions and stress were high. All we wanted for Mom was peace, comfort, and for her to pass in her own home surrounded by the ones she loved. My only regret is that we did not have hospice sooner. Hospice brings comfort and kindness in your darkest hour. Hospice made this time possible with my mom.
As a Heart ‘n Home Social Worker, I have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful patients and families traveling their end-of-life journey. I love having the chance to provide emotional support and resources. My favorite part is hearing the experiences patients and families have had throughout their lives.
Recently, my husband, Mike, and I had the opportunity to volunteer for a 90-year-old patient who had a wish to see the new Star Wars movie. My husband has completed the Volunteer Training, but had not had a direct-patient volunteering experience. I was able to go as a Volunteer as well, since the patient was not one of mine. It also was my first assignment as a Heart ‘n Home Volunteer. Mike and I went to pick up the patient and quickly found that while his body had declined in abilities, his mind was clearly sharp and has years of amazing experience to share. He said he had not been able to go out often, so he felt like a car ride and movie was a real treat!
The patient was thrilled to see the new Star Wars film and was wide-eyed the entire movie. After the show, he shared how amazed he was at the technology used in the movie and we were able to spend time reminiscing. As we drove back to his home, I was thinking about the impact of this experience for him, as well as for Mike and me. This gentleman kept thanking us for taking the time to take him to the movies, and how kind this was. I thanked him for letting his care team know about his wish to see Star Wars, so that we had the chance to meet him.
This opportunity was so special because we were reminded how meaningful the act of sharing some time with another person can be. My husband was able to see the meaning behind volunteer work with hospice patients. I reflected on how my time may be as I age. Will others see me as a person who still has something to offer? This experience helped me see past the 90-year-old man to see him as so much more. As a person who still has experiences and stories to share and contribute.
If there was a way I could describe my mom in one word, I’d use the word “fighter.” As a woman who had 9 children, she fought for us our entire lives. She fought traffic to get us to our appointments; she fought the societal standards to give us the best lives possible; and frequently, especially as teenagers, she fought with us. My mom fought long and hard, and never lost a single battle. Not a single person mentioned the words “giving up” when it came time for hospice – even though she wasn’t on hospice services for very long.
Two or three days prior to my mom dying, there were several people coming to and going from our house, making calls, and bringing food. My siblings flew in from out of town and we stayed as physically close as possible to her and each other as we could. We slept in chairs, on the floor, and doubled up in beds because we didn’t want to be alone. We dared not even to go to the store alone! We sat, stewed, waited, watched, and prayed. The night before my mom died, one of her oldest friends, Denise, came over to sit with her so that my siblings and I could
go to dinner together. We went to Old Juan’s Cantina and for the first twenty minutes or so, we sat quietly. Worrying … we checked our phones for updates from Denise. Our food arrived and we relaxed a little and did what we do best … EAT! We went back to mom’s house and nestled into our beds, trying our best to sleep. That was Sunday night.
Monday morning came and I had to go into work. My boss told me to stay home – he’d go into the shop and open up, but I was determined to continue as if everything was normal. I left the house at 8:30 a.m. and arrived at the store by 9:15 a.m. By 10:30 a.m. my sister texted me to come home. I called one of my employees to cover for me and left the minute he arrived. I drove 85 mph the entire way home, pulled into the driveway, and saw everyone already crying – I had missed it. I was so angry with myself; so disappointed that I had let her down and wasn’t there for her. I threw my purse across the room. I threw off my sunglasses, collapsed at the foot of her bed, and wailed. I cried for me. I cried for her. I cried for us. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my mom’s hospice nurse. She said, “Wait, look!” I looked up and my mom took one last breath and then she was gone. She waited for me to get home before she truly went. Even in the last moments of her life … she was taking care of me. She waited for me, because she knew I’d be disappointed in myself if I missed it. She waited for me, because she wanted me to be there with her.
I didn’t know exactly how hospice could take care of a patient and their family until I started working for Heart ‘n Home. I didn’t realize how important care for social and spiritual pain was. I didn’t realize the impact they could have on a death. My mom had a good death – she was surrounded by her kids.
I am really passionate about hospice because I’ve been on the receiving end and it allowed my mom to remain comfortable in her home with our family. My mom passed away on February 17, 2014. She was a late referral from the hospital during her last visit there. She was having a pain crisis. My mom had already beaten the Ovarian Cancer, had gone back to work, and gone back to having a life when it reared its ugly head once more. Only this time, it took her from us. My parents gave each of my siblings a gift – they gave us each other. Hospice gave my siblings and me the resources and education we needed to be a family, and to not have to be her nurses. Hospice gave us the comfort of our home while taking care of our mom. Hospice gave my mom her last wish – to be with her kids, to have her grandchildren laughing, and to have a cartoon playing in the background. Hospice is a gift. I’m grateful to be a part of it.
Fruitland Volunteer Coordinator