My personal experience with hospice came recently when my step-father passed away. My mother quietly hugged my neck after the doctor suggested moving Pop from the hospital to the hospice facility down the street and gently whispered, “This is all happening so fast, oh please don’t let him die on Christmas Day!” He had been fighting the good fight and the decision from admitting him into the hospital or sending him home changed when he had a seizure while the doctor was in the room. Immediate tests were ordered and revealed a severe brain bleed; nothing more could be done.
Pop had made it through the night which was more than many expected. His rest appeared tormented even with the morphine shots he was receiving every two hours. His breathing was labored, the room was cold and the monitors sporadically interrupted our dreaded fears as the deafening clock on the wall counted down, ticking the seconds away while the arrangements for his transfer to the hospice facility were made.
The hospital nurses were kind and left us alone while we made a few quiet phone calls to the family. The clock continued, but we wanted time to stop right there. Mom kissed Pop’s head and held his hand while she opened the Christmas gift he had chosen for her just two weeks before. We felt it was appropriate that she open the gift in front of him even though Christmas was still two days away. The gold and diamond pendant expressed his love for her; he had chosen a gift that would describe how much he loved and appreciated her. She hasn’t taken the necklace off since it was clasped around her neck, left to dangle over her heart.
The nurse came back in to see if any of us needed anything and to inform us that the ambulance had arrived to move Pop to hospice. Her strength admirable, my mother stood and took a deep and tortured breath, holding back the reckless sobbing that would come pouring out had she dared to part her lips. Her love for this man was strong and undeniable; she wanted more time to share the plans they had made.
Just the mention of hospice brings a finality that no one wants to hear. “Hospice is beautiful,” the nurse encouraged. “The rooms are cozy and decorated like bedrooms and each one has its own theme. One is all decorated up in a fishing theme.”
“Oh he loves fishing,” Mom volunteered. “Maybe that room will be available.”
Right away we noticed that hospice smelled better than the hospital and commented on such as we gathered in the waiting room. A soft spoken woman offered us coffee or tea and showed us around the surprisingly ample kitchen for such a small facility. A social worker came out to speak with us about how we were welcome 24 hours a day and how to access the building after hours. She asked if we had any questions, but some were no longer important and others suddenly escaped our thoughts. They kept our minds occupied while we waited to see Pop. We were functioning in an existence between two worlds, nothing felt real‚ and we felt nothing but a dull, aching numbness. Some weird type of autopilot seemed to have taken control, despite of – or possibly because of – the lack of sleep combined with an indescribable emotional turmoil erupting within our souls.
In no time, the staff settled Pop into his new room. Painted in a calming shade of beige, the open blinds looked onto an immaculate courtyard. Comfortable furniture adorned the room that was aglow with warm incandescent lighting. The white chenille bedspread was like the one my grandmother used to have on her feather bed when I was a child. The area was bigger than I imagined, not at all like the hospital’s institutionalized box and the absence of tubes, monitors and machines permitted Pop to rest comfortably.
The staff was reassuring and offered words of comfort. A young woman made her rounds visiting the patients with a sack full of toys; and she laid a plush Santa in the bed with him. Someone else brought in a tall white tapered candlestick nestled in a small glass holder; a card tied on with ribbon held the words of the 23rd Psalm. We stayed until late in the evening when Mom said she’d like to go home and try to get some sleep. My step-brother had already committed to spending the night with Pop, so she felt confident the love of her life would be in the best of hands without her there.
At 3:15 AM the phone rang and we were woken up with the realization that if we wanted to see Pop again, we had to return to hospice immediately. The end for us all is inevitable, but suddenly the end was approaching at break neck speed and no one was ready to say goodbye. As we gathered silently around the bed, each of us afraid to leave the room for even a moment, we found the inner strength to say our goodbyes through tears and through touch as our throats burned with pent up screams of despair for our sorrow and our loss. We silently watched the lines of pain disappear from his face as his body released his energy, his life, and his spirit… on Christmas Eve.
While the ordeal of my step-father’s passing was both emotionally and physically exhausting, the hospice staff was amazingly courteous. We knew the end was imminent for Pop, and allowing him to expire in the care of the hospice facility was ten times better than if he had remained in the hospital. I appreciated the hospice staff and their attention to even the oddest of our requests during this difficult time. I would recommend to anyone that is faced with making these tender, yet painful decisions for a loved one to accept the services of hospice. Although losing a loved one was unimaginably personal, hospice lent a heartfelt hand, gently guiding us through this anguished journey.