A Companion for the Hospice Journey

Introduction: Who This Book Is For

The book on hospice is for no one.

[See my note at end, please]

No one wants to die.

No one wants a loved one to die.

No one wants to grieve a death.

No one wants to talk about hospice.

Are you no one? If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’ve taken a reluctant step toward admitting that it’s time to consider dying, death, or grief.

You didn’t plan to get cancer, but once you learned about the diagnosis, you planned to battle and beat it. Now your oncologist has suggested hospice, to shift from curing the disease to creating quality of life in the final season of life. No one plans for that suggestion.

Since your spouse never smoked, and usually made the right choices about eating and exercise, it’s unfair that she has had to deal with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Nonetheless, for years she successfully managed her illness with medication. Until now. And now both of you are waiting for the person from hospice to arrive to explain the benefits. Read More →

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I Hope You Don’t Feel Like You’re a Burden?

Whenever I entered a patient’s home as a hospice chaplain, much seemed the same. The patient might be rich or poor, young or old, but they were invariably surrounded by the benchmarks of a life-threatening illness: hospital beds, oxygen tanks, commodes, medication bottles.

Still, with eyes and heart open, I knew everyone, and ever situation, was unique.

How can one patient, facing death, glow with kindness? How can another, also confronted by death, appear mired in bitterness? Of course, it’s like that with everyone, in all seasons and places. One child laughs, another child sulks. One employee bounces through the Monday morning office door, while the next slouches in with a grim, don’t-tread-on-me expression. Voices and fingerprints and more confirm that we are the lonely or lovely stars of our one-person road show.

And so, I sit beside a patient’s hospital bed. Read More →

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Doctors, Hospice, and Plato’s 2,000-Year-Old Comment

A son’s Dad had died about six weeks ago.

I phoned to check on the son and his family. During the brief chat, I learned that his father hailed from Wyoming, had been a wonderful grandfather to his many grandchildren, and how the family was dreading all of the future birthdays and holidays without “Gramps.”

In some of the bereavement calls I make for hospice, no one is home (or no one answers) and I’ll leave a message. Or the call is quick and perfunctory. On occasions, callers talk for quite a while because they’re hurting or lonely. I try to be ready for anything.

In this call, the man whose father had recently died, and who’d been served by hospice for only a handful of days, asked, “Why didn’t Dad’s doctor ever tell us about hospice?” He paused, then shared more of his father’s story. After multiple emergency room trips, procedures attempted and procedures considered, a surgeon had lingered in the father’s hospital room. It was this doctor— unknown to the family hours before—that finally explained the option of hospice. Read More →

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