My weekend away from home last month left me a little exhausted but infused with love which helped me shift to a new perspective in my caretaking role. I looked at mom when I returned and saw how far she had regressed over the past few weeks and how challenging caring for her had become for me. She had several meltdowns while I was gone but my family rallied and they all made it through unscathed. Gratefully she doesn’t consciously remember these episodes but a lingering angst cloak her days like fog.
A friend and co-worker at Weight Watchers shared how helpful Hospice had been for the last few weeks of her dad’s life and another friend reminded me that they also have a program called Transitions for family members with an extended life expectancy. I had thought of Hospice and dismissed the option saying we weren’t there yet.
When my dad was dying of cancer in 2000 he was living in my mom’s home as he couldn’t live alone, they’d been divorced for many years. He was in denial over his diagnoses to live for six months or possibly a year with a new treatment. He wasn’t eligible for Hospice services until he chose not to have the new chemotherapy. Two weeks after the news on the day he told me he wouldn’t take the new drug Hospice came in to help. He insisted on getting up and dressed and turned on his charm and had a lovely interview. The nurse was there for me on the phone that evening when he was having trouble breathing and they supplied the drugs to keep him pain free. He died that very night. Only one day of service but they were there when we needed them and assisted with all the arrangements and processes after a loved one dies.
This experience was immensely life changing for me and seeing my dad’s body left me without doubt that his soul was gone, who my dad was, and that all that was left behind was a shell, his body—his soul’s home but not ‘him’. I had always believed humans were spiritual beings having a human experience, after my dad’s death this belief was transformed into a knowing.
My fear was that mom would hear Hospice and think she was dying today. Or worse that she would think I had given up on her living. My fear overcame my intuition until I came home and saw ‘what is’ without any emotion, seeing her as an outsider would. Yes she’s slowly dying. Yes I knew I needed the support and help that Hospice could offer. When I listened to my wise self she firmly exhorted me to make the call. And I did.
The Hospice staff has been gentle, respectful, and engaging with her. Hospice is all about the quality of life and I feel incredibly listened to and as though we are both cradled in safe hands. Once I’d made the call I immediately allowed myself to exhale a deep breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. Fear is heavy. I felt I’d set an immeasurable burden down. Our routine hasn’t changed all that much but I know I have a team behind me to support my intention of making her days as joyfilled and comfortable as possible.
Ultimately I made the call for me. I came face to face with my humanness and accepted that I couldn’t do it all by myself. I needed help physically, emotionally, and spiritually and this amazing organization is designed to provide support in these three areas for both the patient and care giver. They keep families together and dignity in place at a time when it feels impossible to do so. That they accomplish their mission with an extraordinary level of service is a blessing I am truly grateful for.