Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Unreality of Death

For some of us, certain events in life may seem unreal.

Saying “I do” in your own wedding ceremony, signing the papers for your first home, witnessing the birth of your first child—these are moments that, as they occur, you realize are life milestones. Often, there is an instant within such a moment when you think, “Is this really me? Is this really happening?”

When you visit an iconic landmark in person or see a famous individual up close, an “Oh, wow!” may flash through your mind as you think, “There he/she/it is and here I am, seeing her/it/him through my own eyes. Am I really here?”

Similarly, when a loved one receives a terminal diagnosis, the cold reality may be hard to process. “Is my dad, the strong and wise man who has always been part of my life, actually mortal? He’s always been here—could be really die?” While you consciously know that your spouse/parent/sibling has limited time remaining, the situation can be almost unreal. “Is this really happening? To him/her—–and to me?”

The change in situation affects not only the person facing death, but also those who will survive. Friends and family behave differently. There are concerns about how to behave, concerns about how to face the future, concerns about dealing with loss.

At Hope Hospice, our chaplains and social workers provide guidance daily for those who have difficulty coming to grips with the approaching death of a loved one. We know that it may seem unreal.

The message here is for caregivers, family members and friends to face the reality of the situation. Yes, it may be like no other life event you’ve witnessed before, but the dying process is a significant time—for the person who is dying and for those who survive. When the thought “Oh, wow, is this really me sitting next to my dying parent?” pops up, embrace the reality.

It may be hard to say things you want to say. You may think, “I’ll share everything during the final moments of (my loved one’s) life. I’ll call his/her old friends when he/she is near the end.” Reality dictates that you need to do these things sooner rather than later.

John Mayer wrote the song “Say,” for the movie “The Bucket List,” a film about two men facing death. Mayer sang: “In the end, it’s better to say too much than never say what you need to say again. Even if your hands are shaking and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open.”

As unreal as the prospect of death may seem when it looms close by, death is real. The experience of watching someone you love slowly fade away is real. Death, after all, is part of life.

 

A Salute to Caregivers

Watching a spouse, a parent, a partner, a friend or neighbor die is not easy. Serving as a caregiver for this dying person can be especially difficult. At Hope Hospice, we recognize and salute all caregivers for the support and love they provide during this stressful time.

The role of the caregiver is one that constantly changes. One week, the patient may feel good and need little more than companionship. The next week, the patient can suffer physical and mental decline and require constant attention. One week, the patient may want to talk freely about death, the family and the future without him or her around. The next week, the patient may be uncommunicative or even hostile.

When a patient goes on hospice care, the hospice team goes into action. At Hope Hospice, our team includes doctors, nurses, home health aids, a social worker, chaplains and a massage therapist. These hospice professionals work closely with caregivers to offer support and guidance. They also depend on caregivers to share information about the patient’s condition and attitude.

Making sure the caregiver knows how to respond to certain patient situations is a big part of what hospice team members do. Experienced hospice personnel can also counsel the caregiver regarding his or her own mental and physical well being.

For caregivers, having good backup from another friend or family member is vital. Getting away from the house or apartment and taking time away from this stressful circumstance is essential. Caregivers must be sure to take care of their own needs, such as getting proper sleep and nutrition.

As a patient declines and loses his or her appetite, a caregiver can experience frustration when the food she or he prepares is not eaten. Among other serious concerns are patient hallucinations and loss of memory, which can result in caregiver stress. At Hope Hospice, we help caregivers both anticipate and respond to these occurrences.

The most important thing for caregivers to know is that hospice personnel are available to provide assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To our hospice patient caregivers, we salute you for all you do.

Putting a Face on Hospice Patients

Conversations about hospice often focus on hospice staff and the care that is provided to patients and families. Much is said and written about hospice procedures and policies. Explaining how hospice works is a big part of the story of hospice.

That’s why it is refreshing to read about the real people who are hospice patients. Their stories in their own words provide an intimate glimpse of these individuals and how they are experiencing end-of-life. When a patient is generous enough to share his or her story, it gives us guidance regarding decisions to be made about loved ones in our own lives. These profiles and comments remind us that hospice is a vital part of our health care system and delivers care that is unique and special.

The article on the front page of the August 19, 2012 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch included comments from Hope Hospice patient Jeanne Lampe of St. Louis. She talks about the difficulty of her condition: “Death itself doesn’t bother me, but emphysema is a crappy death. You’re basically gasping for breath.” She also reveals her sense of humor: “When I’m ready to go, I want morphine and a margarita.”

The front-page photo that accompanies the story shows Jeanne Lampe having her breathing monitored by Hope Hospice nurse Jason Winfrey. This photo is touching and moving. It is an example of the real people who receive hospice care from Hope Hospice everyday. We tip our hat to the Post-Dispatch for including the photo of Jeanne, as well as photos of patients served by other St. Louis hospices, with its article about hospice.

The article helps inform the community about the services that hospice care provides and delves into the business aspects of hospice care in St. Louis. To read the entire article, click here. But more importantly, the article and the photos show that hospice patients are real people.

At Hope Hospice, patient care and patient comfort are our primary goals. We treat every patient as an individual—a real person with real needs and concerns. We offer special thanks to Jeanne Lampe for telling her story and putting a face on the story of hospice.