Don’t Wait for Tomorrow: A Lesson Learned in Hospice


My father's hospice experience was brief. Less than four days passed between the afternoon he entered the facility and the morning he drew his last breath. In that short time, I learned much about this extraordinary world.

Hospitals typically fight for life, but hospice is remarkable because death is normal, not an enemy to be fought. The first time I walked through those doors, though, I could feel the terror rising in my chest. The brick and mortar reality of the situation made me realize that I was not ready to confront the inevitability of my father's death. Ready or not, though, there I was.

As I entered the facility, I remarked how different it looked from a hospital. It was more like a hotel, really. There was nicely upholstered furniture and there were beautiful prints on the walls. It even had a conference room and outdoor patio. The normality, as well as the overwhelming silence, left me anxious, though. I had grown accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the hospital, the hurried nurses, the PA announcements, the purring machines. I had come to associate the noise and activity with life, period.

So, when dad went into hospice, I sought out familiarity and routine. For us, that meant watching television. Although he was increasingly passing in and out of consciousness, he would still perk up when I announced that "Jeopardy!" was on. A mere 36 hours before he died, my father beat me at the popular game show quiz, as he had done so many times before.

Save for their check-ins to monitor his condition, the staff gave us complete privacy. That mostly meant letting us watch our shows in peace. However, I eventually relaxed knowing that I could cry or sleep without strangers barging in at any moment, unlike the continuous flow of doctors, nurses and aides that came in and out of my dad's hospital room.

Another striking difference was the social worker. Within minutes, he introduced himself and said that his door was always open. I thanked him for the offer, but being the buttoned-up type, I assumed that I wouldn't use his services. To be honest, I didn't want to share my feelings with a stranger who probably sees hundreds of people walk in and out of his office each year. If I needed to talk, I would call a friend.

But he was persistent, and I was glad for it. We again crossed paths, and he asked, "So how are you doing?" I diverted his question, answering, "I'm just sad you can't know my dad for who he really is." He prompted me to explain, and I suddenly found myself telling story after story about the intelligent, clever and kind man my dad was—the man who was now too weak to open his eyes. The social worker then asked if I had ever told my dad the stories I just told him. The short answer was no.

And that is yet another reason why hospice can be extraordinary. If ever there is a time to seize the moment, it is when a loved one is in hospice. That social worker helped me realize it was time to share that treasure trove of memories and anecdotes with my dad.

Though my father wasn't one to reminisce, I didn't want the regret of not telling him why he meant so much to me. What was said remains between my dad and me, but I will always be grateful to that persistent social worker for his gentle push. You don't always get second chances (that afternoon turned out to be my dad's last), so don't wait for tomorrow.

Anna Keizer was the caregiver to her father who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2013. A writer by profession, she has written extensively on a variety of health topics, including cancer, heart disease and stroke, for healthcare clients across the nation. She also writes for walk-in tub manufacturer Bliss Tubs and its aging in place blog.

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My mom is on her second day at the Hospice House in Coeur d'Alene ID. My 86 year old mom broke her hip and as hard as the nurses at the hospital tried it was a tragic experience but before she was transported to hospice two nurses came into her room, dimmed the lights and gave her a lilac bath. Then they rubbed her down with lilac lotion and massaged her back. I rode in front of the ambulance as she was transfered to hospice and about two thirds of the way there i smelled the lilac fragrance drift up through the cab. As we drove up to the entrance of hospice it looked like a beautiful mountain resort and as I looked at it I thought " This is where my mom is going to die" and I felt peaceful about it. The interior is warm and beautiful with a double sided fireplace, very comfortable lounge chairs and some of the best soup and pastries I've ever had. Mom's room is beautiful and warm with painted green walls, rich woods and a pink quilt on her bed. Last night two nurses came in to change her diaper and the one nurse hugged and kissed her as they were rolling her on her side telling her what a brave woman she was. Then I heard that nurse sing Jesus Loves Me to my mom. I know the bible says God uses each of us but I often wonder what I am being used for. It is very evident how these angels of hospice are being used. I am eternally thankful.

A simple Thank You is all I can say.
My best friend of 36 years recently visited; her husband of 37 years passed away of glioblastoma, a very aggressive form of brain cancer 6 months ago. He was only 59. He was a marathon runner, workaholic, with his only 'health issue' being very bad eye sight all his life. Ironically, his eye sight was what drove him to the doctor and was the 'reveal' that his worsening sight was because of his brain tumor. They gave him about 6 months. He lasted almost four years. Let me say those four years were increasingly unmitigated hell. So much graphic, horrible stuff that my friend (his wife who cared for him) along with their many friends (which got to be while a blessing a constant, enormous stream of people in their home, never giving my friend a quiet place to rest herself, because everyone wanted to 'help'). Their master bedroom, once painted pastels and beautifully decorated with light, fluffy rugs, was painted dark red and the floor replaced with hardwood with the bed frame on the floor directly. Try to use your imagination why all of these changes had to be made. Hint: he was given a blood thinner to help cope with the drugs that he was being treated with which caused him to bleed out from every orifice. The room they once shared as husband and wife became his alone while she slept down the hall, her cell phone next to her bed always on the ready if he needed anything.
My sister is a hospice nurse. I well know from her involvement as well as having seen what hospice can do from many friends and other family. I constantly and gently urged my friend to call them. But her husband didn't want it; he didn't want to think of himself as that bad, as if it was admitting he was imminently going to die. He wasn't 'ready'. It was so tragic that my friend and her kids didn't have the support to care for him that she could have had with hospice as soon as he was diagnosed. They had only just called and involved hospice the day before he passed away and the beautiful facility near their home was where they took him, where hours later he passed. I cannot stress how helpful hospice is, not only for the terminally ill but for everyone close to them. It still makes me shudder to recap the details of what this entire family went through without this support. And I wish her husband had been able to see the part mentioned above - that death is normal and inevitable and that he could have been helped with this process.