This is the first of a two-part story that I decided to write about a personal experience involving hospice since this is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month…
This time it is lung cancer that has spread to lymph nodes and for the second time even surgery and radiation can’t stave it off. She and I both know that treatment is limited and so are her remaining days. In private, I ask the doctor how much time she has and he answers, “A matter of weeks.”
My great-aunt Jean, who is childless, is my godmother. She is a second mother to me and as her diagnosis is given, grief begins its swirling descent into both of our hearts. I can’t contain my tears as she discusses her pre-planned funeral and the details of her estate which names me “executor.” She holds my hand and says, “Godchild, life is hard, but God is holding us throughout all of it. This is just a part of life.”
When the cancer-care specialist recommends hospice, Aunt Jean responds, “I don’t think I need that, I have help right where I live.” Later, I share my experience of hospice from a nursing perspective, telling her about their role in helping her medically, and helping all of us emotionally.
She has no history with hospice, no friends who have used their services, so I understand her reluctance. A woman of great faith, she receives regular visits from her pastor and she knows my mom (her niece) and I will be at her side as well. She thinks that is all she needs.
The move from her own apartment to the assisted-living part of her community begins the first of many changes; again she finds the silver-lining and gracefully adjusts. She picks out her favorite pieces of furniture and pictures to adorn the walls and states, “This is why I chose to live here, I knew that if I needed more care, I could get it. If this is where I have to live, this will be nice.”
The question about hospice care comes up again as she gets weaker – this time, my approach is different. “I am so glad that you feel well cared for both physically and spiritually, but hospice is just another layer of care for both of us. If you don’t do it for YOU, would you consider doing it for ME?”
She takes a deep breath (which I see is a challenge in itself), looks me in the eye and says, “Of course godchild, for you I would do anything, where are those papers I need to sign?”