I’ve come a long way, baby. From being the scarediest of cats about so many things. High bridges, for instance. And death.
For the longest time, my parents sheltered my brothers and me from post-mortem matters. It wasn’t until the eighth grade that I attended a funeral, my paternal grandfather’s. In the back of the church sanctuary I stayed that afternoon, afraid that death…I don’t know…might somehow be contagious.
The second funeral I attended was the service of a high school homeroom buddy. He died drag racing. Which burst my back-then-belief that death couldn’t touch a teenager.
Years later I married into an Italian family. Where weddings and funerals are basically, family reunions.
This not only made mandatory my presence at viewings and memorial services, but also my walking within feet if not inches of the dearly departed. Something which to date, I’d somehow managed to avoid.
Always I held my breath, fearing the fragrance of formaldehyde. Equally terrifying was the prospect of offering condolences to the deceased’s loved ones. What words are adequate, comforting? Inoffensive?
A decade ago, a “Job season” wrested me from my dread-of-death grip.
In a little over a year, Tony and I lost five close family members, including both of our fathers.
Those experiences toughened me considerably with regard to death. Though I still cannot bring myself to kiss a corpse’s cheek, I am now able to pat their hand and tell them how good they look.
Last year, Tony lost his mother.
Her departure was different from the others in that her passing was blessedly brief. Not a lingering fade due to dementia or cancer. She suffered a fall, sustained a head trauma, and a week later she was gone.
Before her passing, though, hospice employees helped us formulate a multi-faceted care plan:
- Arrange for a hospital bed in her home
- Transport her home
- Position the bed in front of her ginormous-screen television
- Let her spend her final days in the presence of all movies John Wayne on the Western Channel
Alas, Mom passed away before our hospice care plan transpired. Even so, the plan seemed a good one, and cheered us.
But not everyone is a fan of hospice.
Some folks believe HOSPICE a 7-letter curse word, a synonym for “giving up.”
In my opinion, this thinking is flawed. I say this because I’m reading Atul Gawande’s important book, Being Mortal,* for the second time in a year. In order to prepare for my own mother’s end-times which seem imminent.
My oldest brother and I, as well as Mom’s doctors, agree hospice is the best plan of action going forward.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that no drug or procedure exists that can truly fix Mom—“fix” meaning to restore our mother to her former level of function—a few loved ones have balked at the mention of hospice.
“In less than a month, with a few bad reports, you’re already considering hospice?”
Yes. Allow me to explain. Or rather, I’ll paste the words I sent out in response to various inquiries.
The goal of ordinary medicine is to extend life.
Hospice aims to give each client the fullest possible life now, today.
Hospice, a type of palliative care, can yield some or all of the following benefits:
- Better symptom management (which can mean less suffering)
- Better quality of life
- Increased feeling of control
- Avoidance of risks associated with treatment and hospitalization
- Decreased costs with improved utilization of health care resources
- Longer maintenance of mental awareness
- The ability to interact—for a longer period of time, often in their own home—with family, friends, and beloved pets.
Please note: Patients with a terminal illness do not usually have to pay for hospice care. Currently, most hospice patients have their costs covered by Medicare, through the Medicare Hospice Benefit.
Also worth considering is the study that showed individuals who pondered key questions (see the list below) and acted accordingly–typically opting for hospice services–lived 25% longer than people who did not.
To my mind,
Hospice is not giving up on your loved one. Choosing hospice actually gives them the possibility of a longer life with better quality.
On this subject, Gawande advises pondering the afore-mentioned key questions in advance of a health crisis: “…people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.”
I sit with my mother now, knowing I am honoring her final wish: “I want to go home.”
Here in her cozy apartment with her beloved cat, Mom appears peaceful. I also feel peace. And thankfully, no fear.
I never intended to, but it seems I’m earning another masters degree. In an idea Guwande mentions in his book: Ars Moriendi: the art of dying. With my mentoring professors being Atul Gawande and my mother.
- What are your biggest fears and concerns?
- What goals are most important to you?
- What trade-offs are you willing to make, and not?
Charlotte Lakies says
This hit close to home. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have had two family member pass under hospice care. I cannot say enough good things about the organization and their mission. My deepest sympathy to you and your family on your Mother’s passing.
Beautiful tribute Diane!
Caron and says
Very good stuff here
Cole // Cole Smith Writes says
I think my biggest fears and concerns are the regrets: -Did I do enough? -Did I say enough? -What’s left undone? -What was a waste of time?
Such an important topic, and a difficult one, too. Praying for you and family <3
Barbara whittington says
So sorry for you loss dear Diane. Never easy to say good bye. I experience the ebb and flow of grief. Still. Almost non existent and then rolls over me like a steam roller. Sending hugs n prayers. Bobbie
I forgot to say the beautiful featured image for this image was supplied by Arlene Schlobohm. Thanks for letting me use this, Arlene!
Catherine e says
I was in my late 20’s when attending my first funeral and had all the same issues. I am so sorry for your loss, but it sounds like she went the way we all hope to pass.
A kindred soul! Thanks for stopping by!
Yes, if we have to go on from this world, let us go peacefully.
Donna S Meredith says
BEING MORTAL is a book everyone should read. You are right–Hospice is a wonderful program. It allowed my mother to fulfill her last wish–to die at home.
Don’t tell anyone, but everyone in my family is getting a copy of “Being Mortal” for Christmas. Everyone, that is, that has a parent! Haha!
I remember Gawande saying in his book that we are coming full-circle. In the old days, people died at home. Then deaths began to happen in the hospital or in nursing homes. Now it is cycling back to happening at home. It’s a good thing.
Maureen Schmitt says
I’m so sorry for your loss Diane. I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts, and Atul’s writing is quite thought provoking. He was a student of a friend of mine.
Thanks so much for your condolences, Maureen. Atul was a student of one of your friends? No way!! That would be so cool. I have a friend who lives in Athens, Ohio, his former home. I’ve asked her to let me know if he ever goes back to speak there. If he does, I’m getting him to sign my copy of “Being Mortal!”
Karin Fuller says
To write so beautifully during such a difficult time is a testimony to your skills and character. You’ve done your momma proud. My heart goes out to you, along with my prayers.
Thanks so much, Karin. I FEEL your prayers, for sure!
Esther Murray says
Dear Diane, thank you for laying bare your experience and insights.
This past month, I also saw my mom pass. Hospice Care helped her so much. I am so grateful for their TLC. You articulated their mission and goals so well. I had to fight to get mom under their care but grateful when they stepped in with supportive care such as the Chaplin and counselor. Blessings, Esther
You are so welcome, Esther. I’m sorry for your loss. Who the heck was fighting you to get your mom in to hospice? That’s awful!
I plan to write another post, maybe two, on the experience. Our chaplain and nurse were absolutely beautiful in their care of Mom (and me) and I want to share some of the cool things they did for us.