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Three Things I Learned about Dying


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.

Georgene’s dad was on hospice for five days before he passed away.

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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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. December 7, 2016 at 8:31 pm | Posted by Marie

    I am so overwhelmed right now. I am caring for my 76 year old mother who is diagnosed with brain metastasis. Last week she was put on hospice. I quit my job to care for her. I ask my younger sister to come sit with her so I can get a break and she refuses. My brother helps as much as he can but he can't change her.


  2. October 12, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Posted by Jill Chase

    One day I watched two very young hospices nurses give my father a bath. He was nearing the end of his life and was in the nursing home. Their skill and compassion was overwhelming for me to watch. I got up and left because I did not want to cry in front of them. Their touch was so gentle, their concern was real. This is not a pleasant job, it smells, and their patient dies. What kind of person does this? Its not the money, that I am sure of. They are a special kind of person. I took them flowers and candy after my dad died but that seemed so little compared to what they had done for us.


    • October 18, 2016 at 10:50 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      It is a calling for sure, Jill Chase! I don't know how they do it either. But I am so grateful there are people who do!


  3. October 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Posted by gwen

    my husband of 56 yrs married is in dementia home, has had loads of TIA and very badly damaged heart. Has to be cared for with everything eating etc. lost speech. lost everything but the will to live is strong. I dread the day of seperation, a blessing for him but the greatest loss will be felt by me. Who knows I might have gone before him. Have seen so many and death lingering with Alzheimers is not at all pleasant to the family.


    • October 18, 2016 at 10:54 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Yes, that will to live was so strong in my father as well, Gwen. There are few things more difficult than watching those we love suffer. Thank you for sharing. Please take care of yourself. I pray you have peace.


  4. October 11, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Posted by Karen

    My father died June 7, 2016. complications from alzheimers. Hospice helped us and we kept dad at home where he was most happy. They knew also all the things to say to us and to prepare us for his passing, but I wonder if I will ever get over losing him. I miss him so. After he passed they took care of getting him ready to go to funeral home, with such respect and dignity for him. He was 90 years young and had been without mom for 14 years, he missed her so. Veteran, Dad, Papaw, great papaw. So blessed to have him in my life and thankful for the people in hospice care. It takes a special person to work in that field and I feel God places them there. My best to you all, and remember my brother and I as we heal.


    • October 18, 2016 at 11:02 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      I miss my dad too, Karen! My father had been widowed for a long time as well -- 15 years. So many of us on this same road. I take comfort in that and I hope you do as well. I will be thinking of you and your family, and will pray for your healing. Thank you for reaching out. God bless. Georgene


  5. October 11, 2016 at 10:39 am | Posted by Linda

    So sorry for your loss. My husband was on Hospice for several months before dying of bladder cancer. They were my guardian angels. I was so relieved that it was over...then experienced guilt over those feelings. I am now taking care of my 92 year old mother...I pray she passes in her sleep; hate to see her struggle...


    • October 11, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      My condolences on the loss of your husband, Linda. Thank you for sharing. I will pray as well for an easy exit for your mother. Take care of yourself! Georgene


  6. October 7, 2016 at 12:19 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

    I am so sorry, Carol. You must try to hang on as best you can, knowing you've done everything you can possibly do for your mother. Pray that God will watch out for her and He will. The one thing I learned is that as much as we want to fix everything for our loved ones, so much is out of our hands. Please take care of yourself. It's difficult, but try to get regular sleep, eat well and exercise if you can. God bless, and I will be thinking of you. Georgene


  7. October 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Posted by CAROL

    I am hurting so much today. My mother who will be 85 at the end of the month was moved from a hospital today to a nursing home. Her body is in bad shape but her mind is pretty good. That is what makes it hard. She was in the hospital for the last week with many digestive & colon problems as well as pneumonia. It was touch & go last week Then "failure to thrive" as she rejected alot of procedures & meds in the hospital.. Now off to long term nursing care. She thinks she is only going for a few weeks of rehab as there is a bit of dementia that is rapidly progressing. I am feeling so guilty! I am trying to balance work, home life and visiting her. I just feel exhausted all the time from emotions running high and low. I am scared for her as you hear about the elderly being abused and neglected at times. I want to just have a good cry. I am tired of holding this in!!!


    • October 12, 2016 at 9:28 am | Posted by Cheryl Smith

      Carol, I'm so sorry to hear about the change in your mother's health, and the angst you're experiencing. I will be praying today that God gives you abundant peace in the midst of the storm.


    • October 19, 2016 at 2:45 am | Posted by Sadie

      Carol, go ahead and have that cry! You don't have to hold it in. And ALL of your feelings are completely normal and understandable.


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