“I think he looks like a hospice patient, don’t you,” said my mother, a retired RN. Dad smiled at mom’s humor. After 65 years of marriage, this type of humor was expected. The comment preceded our family conversation regarding the decision to choose hospice care at home for my dad.
My parents had recently relocated to Dallas to be closer to family as their health declined. Dad, a retired Air Force Colonel and proud Navy and Air Force Veteran having served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, looked at life practically. He loved life, but when he realized his liver disease was gaining the upper hand, he knew he needed to be closer to family for mom to be cared for by daughters living in Dallas. In addition to liver disease, he was diagnosed with cancer after moving to Dallas.
With the support of VNA Hospice and Palliative Care, my father had what the nurses would call a good death. For this to happen, the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) provided the right support at the right time in the months leading up to his death. Dad was admitted to VNA Palliative Care and transitioned to VNA Hospice four months prior to his passing. I was also fortunate to be able to speak with my father about his priorities months before his actual death allowing our family to focus on my dad’s medical and emotional needs in his final weeks of life. A good reference as to how to have these conversations is provided by theconversationproject.org
As experts on dying well, Hospice helps loved ones understand and process the experience that everyone goes through at some point. Everyone has a different and unique experience, but there are chords of similarities that occur with every passing. Many Hospice clinicians and support staff see Hospice as a calling and as experts they work side by side with the patient and their loved ones, educating and supporting in what is probably one of the most difficult times of life.
The journey at the end of life is one we will all face, but sadly, many choose to avoid even having a conversation about what makes a “good death.” Because of my profession and my parents’ openness to discussion of their end-of-life wishes, we were able to prepare and make the most of our time remaining together. Because of the support of the VNA staff, my father left this world peacefully. I didn’t have to face my fears alone and for that I am grateful beyond words.
By Katherine Krause, President and CEO, Visiting Nurse Association