Sunday, June 18, 2017

Month 6.6 of 48: The Heart of Hospice

Jacki and my dear friend, Tracie Hansen, wrote a guest post for us this month about what Hospice has meant to her.  Tracie lost her beloved mother, Joy Duprey, to pancreatic cancer in March 2005.  I know how difficult it can be to examine wounds that even so many years later can feel fresh when least expected.  Thank you, Tracie. -- Cristy

VISTA HOSPICE by, Tracie Hansen

I was 33 years old when I discovered Vista Hospice. My mom had recently started volunteering for the organization—which was then called Northland Hospice—and she spoke lovingly about the people she met and the work that they did.

Tracie, Natalie and Joy
I hadn’t really grasped the role Hospice plays in our community. I certainly didn’t realize it would
soon become one of the most important resources I never knew I needed.

At the time, I was enjoying the joys and challenges of being a mom to two personality-packed kiddos. Our four-year-old Lego-building, reading-machine was wise beyond his years and soaking in every bit of the world around him, while his little sister toddled around, a goofy, wide-eyed chatterbox stealing the hearts of all she met. These two were my world and life was glorious.

Except it wasn’t, actually.

At the same time that I was still learning how to be a mother, I was also coming to grips the horrible reality that my own mother’s life was coming to an end. After three years in remission, her pancreatic cancer had returned with a vengeance. Her doctors estimated she had about four months left to live.

My unhealthy fear of death left me paralyzed by the thought of my life without my rock. My mom was the strongest person I knew, and she had already overcome so much hardship in her life. I knew for a fact she would still beat this. And if for some reason she wouldn’t survive…well then, how would I?

Mom accepted the prognosis long before I could. In her infinite wisdom and grace, she turned to Hospice for help transitioning out of this life, knowing it would provide the sense of control she was desperately craving and allow her to die with dignity. She also knew how much I was going to need Hospice, too.

So we met with a Hospice counselor around my dining room table to put my mom’s end-of-life wishes down on paper. It was uncomfortable and surreal. It was also one of the most significant moments of our lives. Not only were we capturing my mom’s dying preferences and developing a plan during a time when she was feeling scared and vulnerable, but little did I know we also were taking the uncertainty and pressure off of me from having to make decisions on her behalf when she no longer could.

Tracie at the Run for Hospice
First and foremost, mom wanted to remain in the comfort of her own home. As a vibrant, 57-year-old woman, the idea of spending her last days in a dreary nursing home was unbearable. Hospice provided regular home visits from an entire care team, including nurses, social workers, and even a chaplain. These angels on earth treated her with compassion, honesty, and respect at every step.

They were equally concerned about my wellbeing. I had taken a leave from my job to come live with mom and be her caregiver, and the Hospice care team helped prepare me for both the physical symptoms of dying as well as the psychological issues that accompany the dying process. And they did this in a way that respected my own fears and doubts, revealing just as much as I could handle while also helping me accept the reality I was facing.

One of mom’s biggest fears was the pain and discomfort she anticipated as the cancer progressed. She was already taking quite a lot of medication, but it was hard to stay ahead of the pain, and she didn’t want to spend her last weeks heavily sedated in a fuzzy haze. The palliative care we received from Hospice was a tremendous blessing. Together we prepared a treatment plan for pain management and symptom control that ensured she was as comfortable and mentally present as possible. It also meant we didn’t have to cope with these additional stresses and fears in the moment.

Tracie and her friend Dee at the Run for Hospice
Throughout mom’s last weeks, we had a steady stream of friends, family, and colleagues stopping in for meals and bedside visits. And despite the circumstances, there was an abundance of laughter in addition to the tears.

Early one morning when I knew that her time was nearing, I woke my brother and the three of us cuddled up in her bed together. We told her we loved her and that we would be ok. We held her hands as she left us. I know in my heart it was exactly as she would have wanted. It was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking.

It’s a gift I would never have known to ask for. And amazingly, it’s what Vista Hospice gives to people in this community each and every day.

Please help us honor Tracie and Joy and join us for the Run for Life this coming Saturday, June 24.  Sign up information can be found here:

No comments:

Post a Comment