Archive for Dying

Hospice and a Lingering Pandemic

Sheltering during virus

The essay with the most comments on this website was written in May 2016, almost four years ago. There were immediate responses to the article when it was first posted. More readers have added their thoughts in each passing year. I felt it essential to include a version of that “popular” article as a chapter in my 2019 A Companion for the Hospice Journey book.

It was on lingering death.

It was about those deaths that take more time than anyone—the medical professionals and the caregivers—ever expected or predicted.

We in hospice inform families that our comfort care is for those who have been given six months or less to live. That is a hard message to properly convey! When hearing from their doctor, or perhaps a hospice nurse who is the first to explain about the comfort care vs. cure services, there are families unable to comprehend the “six months” part. Maybe they are foolishly optimistic, or maybe they are dumbfounded by the new and terrible diagnosis, but some families are convinced their dying beloved will “graduate” from hospice care. Why, six months from now, won’t their spouse or parent beat the disease and return to . . . normal?

Normal? Read More →

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Everything has Changed

Mormon Temple

On a typical early Saturday morning, there are usually a dozen to a hundred cars in the lot. Not last Saturday . . .

Not long ago, I called a young man in Boston, Massachusetts. His beloved grandmother had died in my California-based hospice’s care about four months ago. As with all hospices, we continue grief support after the death. Sending monthly letters with helpful information for a full year is one of our several “tools” for ongoing contact.

He had appreciated the first mailings.

In that recent call to his home in Boston, he asked me to stop the mail.

Why? The novel coronavirus. This pandemic. This disrupter of every aspect of our living, and our dying. How things have changed in a day, in a week, in a year. The young man shared that he was more reluctant to take the short trip to his mailbox. And he had read cautionary words about sealing envelopes with a moistened cloth versus a quick tongue lick. My hospice sends thousands of letters out every month: we don’t lick each envelope! But how can the receiver of the mail tell the difference when fearful or worried?

Wasn’t he overreacting? Read More →

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Death Doesn’t Do Schedules

Late night call

A nurse phoned on the night I came home, letting me know Mom had just died . . .

My father died in early February of 2012. I had visited him five days before, but was not there when Dad died, alone in his bed.

About eighteen months later, in 2013, I was with Mom early in the morning of a hot August day while she lay dying in a convalescent facility. Having been with her for almost a week, I returned home—150 miles south on California’s Highway 99—later on that summer day. I was not with her when she died that night, alone in her bed.

Though my head understands why I was absent when my beloved parents took their last breaths, these are the regrets of my heart.

Dad’s dementia had been going on for years. Even past his ninetieth birthday, his heart was strong. His random, belligerent, disease-inspired actions still intimidated the caregivers at the facility where he lived. Whether a week or a month before he died, no one anticipated his death. Given my mother’s understandable anxiety about finances, we had calculated how much Dad’s care would cost if he lived to 100 years or more. While he didn’t achieve the century mark, we were prepared. How could anyone know that he would die on that mild winter day in California?

Still, regrets. Read More →

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