Posted by Jen Bosworth
This won't be easy. This whole thing. This whole my loved one is dying thing. But if you are considering hospice, are working with hospice now, or have worked with hospice in the past, you already know this. When a loved one is dying, everything is hard. Living day to day is hard. Even making it through the day can be an excruciating endeavor. But here's the thing. Although inviting hospice into our lives can't take the pain away, it can make things easier. And really isn't that what we are going for here? A little more ease? A little more grace. A little breathing room?
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. In 2010, a few weeks before my wedding, we found out that her breast cancer was no longer in remission. It had returned and this time it has metastasized to her lungs. We were devastated but determined to fight. And fight we did. Hard. My mother's doctor told us that she would need chemo off and on for the rest of her life but that the prognosis was far from a death sentence. We were relieved. We were hopeful. But a few months later my mom began having headaches and her MRI showed that she had cancerous lesions on her brain. Again, the doctor told us that although far from great, she could have brain radiation to shrink the lesions and that in some cases they never ever come back. My mom had the brain radiation. But a few months after that her leg began to hurt. She began to fall. A scan showed that she had several cancer "spots" on her femur bone. And then we knew...it was the beginning of the end. My mom continued chemo and radiation but she was getting weaker, losing weight and eventually her doctor told us it was time for hospice.
The word was scary to both my mom and me. Did hospice mean we were giving up? Did it mean that my mom was going to die the day we started hospice? What was hospice exactly, anyway? We had no idea what to expect. Our doctor set up an appointment for a Midwest CareCenter hospice nurse to come and visit us at my mom's house the next day. My mom and I cried on the way home from the doctor's office. I was petrified.
The nurse came the next day and I immediately liked her. She was calm and gentle without being overly sweet or too jolly. My mother was not what I would call "sweet" OR "jolly" and the nurse seemed to be able to read my mom's demeanor and proceeded accordingly. She explained what hospice was and what it wasn't. The whole conversation was sort of a blur but I came away knowing that: A) hospice is NOT death sentence; B) hospice would allow me to take a break for the first time in a long time and allow me to be a daughter instead of a caretaker; and C) life was about to get a WHOLE lot easier for my mother. She had been struggling for so long. We had been schlepping her from appointment to appointment and she wasn't getting any better. She was getting worse. Something about what the hospice nurse was saying gave me some hope. And that was something I hadn't had in a long, long time.
My mother didn't want to die in a hospital. She wanted to die at home. Because of hospice she was able to do that. But we were also able to do so many other things prior to her death because of her hospice care. Her pain was now being managed, thank God. And because she was no longer in pain she was happy for the first time in a long time. We laughed, we hung out and we were able to just be a mom and daughter again, not caretaker and patient. Once Midwest Carecenter got involved my stress level went WAY down. I could breathe again. I could RELAX a little. I could be myself again.
My mother died in her living room on November 16, 2011. She was not in pain. She was surrounded by her loved ones. She was taken care of. It was not easy. Her death was not easy. But hospice care made it easier and more graceful. And I think that's what we're going for, isn't it?