As you may know from my post last month, my father passed away after complications of congestive heart failure. I’ve got to say, the final few days of my father’s life lived up to the apprehension and dread I felt, knowing he was approaching the end. On the one hand, I was praying for Dad to be free from pain. On the other, I knew goodbye was coming.
You want it and you don’t. You think you’ll feel better and you won’t. It’s the conundrum of dying.
A month ago, my 92-year-old dad entered the hospital with a lung infection. Two days later he went on hospice. I had never personally experienced hospice until then. I still don’t know a lot. But I learned a few things in the five days my father was officially on end-of-life care that I hope will be helpful to share with you.
Every journey is different, I am sure of that. Mine was life-changing.
1. Hospice is More Than Pain Management
During his five days in the hospital under hospice care, my father received drugs to manage pain. I said “no” to drugs in the ‘70s but, I’ve got to say, there is a time and place for them. Hospice is one of those times. But hospice is so much more than drugs.
Throughout the week, hospice staff and volunteers stopped by at least once a day. While they couldn’t make predictions, they did offer much insight. They could tell us, with some accuracy, when my father would no longer be able to verbally communicate. These trained professionals warned when time was running short for important conversations. “Have you said what needs to be said?” they asked more than once. “Has your father seen everyone he would want to see?”
The hospice workers explained what was happening, and what would happen.
For the first few days, Dad was able to converse with us – even eat a bit. A steady stream of family and friends came to visit. During one of those visits, my father was actually joking around, which prompted a visitor to wonder why we didn’t reduce his drugs and get him to eat a little more. The answer? Because he was dying. I didn’t have the courage to say that. What I did say was that the pain would have been unbearable had we done that.
2. Dying Doesn’t Change Who You Are
If you’ve followed my blog, you know my father hung on to independence for dear life and tried his best to retain a quality of life during these last few years. But when he decided it was time to go, it seemed he couldn’t get out of this world fast enough.
Nurses who awakened him to put liquid morphine into his mouth were regularly met with this reaction: “Leave me alone, I’m trying to die.” Dad calmed down when they told him it was simply pain medication they were giving him. While there’s nothing funny about Dad’s response, it did bring a smile to all of our faces. It was so my father. It was as if he was concentrating with all of his might to make the exit. Standing at the precipice waiting to jump. Trying to figure out what to do to make it all happen. Ever the impatient guy.
3. It’s a Waiting Game
Ethical debates aside, dying is a waiting game – not just for the person lying in the bed, but for the rest of us too. And if your spouse or parent is in a hospital, like my dad, and the waiting game continues, you may be faced with the decision to move to another facility. Those discussions and decisions can add stress to a family. They did for ours. But I understand. It’s the way our system works. If you’re not actively healing or dying, you must go somewhere else, such as a skilled care community or hospice house.
In the end, Dad made his exit on the morning when hospice was planning to evaluate him for a possible move. He died in the hospital before hospice workers arrived. I was relieved for Dad.
Hospice changed the way I view dying. The experience personalized a process that most of us don’t want to think about. Some of the fear and stigma are gone for me. And while goodbye was as tough as I had imagined it would be, hospice care made all the difference.
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