November 27, 2007 in Features

Hospice offers positive, life-affirming choices

Paul Graves The Spokesman-Review

Hospice is about much more than dying. It is also about living as well as possible after you’ve received a terminal diagnosis.

Earlier this month, I joined many others in a tour of the brand-new Hospice House, just opened by Hospice of Spokane. It is a very welcoming building, so family friendly and warmly decorated. I especially liked the homemade quilts on the beds in each of the 12 residents’ rooms.

I also know the staff will make Hospice House a special place of peace and quality care for the families who spend time there in these next years.

How do I know staff members will create a space of radical hospitality there? Because I have been involved with one hospice or another for 25 years.

In 1982, I was invited to help develop a new hospice at St. Joseph Hospital in Lewiston. In 1992, I became the first volunteer chaplain for the new Medicare-supported Bonner Community Hospice in Sandpoint. In 2004, my mother became a client of Hospice of North Idaho. And in 2006, I led a workshop on “Forgiveness” for staff members of Hospice of Spokane.

As many professional experiences as I’ve had with various hospices, it was my experience as the son of a hospice client that impacts my life the most. When my mother was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, I urged my parents to have her doctor contact Hospice of North Idaho.

They did and were thankful for that yearlong relationship. We all discovered how reassuring it is to get comforting answers to anxious questions with a simple phone call. My parents looked forward to visits by nurses, aides and volunteers, all of whom offered a gentle but confident presence.

On mom’s last day of physical life, we arranged with her hospice nurse to have mom moved from the hustle-bustle of the nursing home to the quiet space at Kootenai Memorial Hospital called “Circle of Life.”

It is a section of the oncology ward designated for hospice clients and their families. It allows for family privacy and quality client care in much the same way as the new Hospice House will provide.

For persons unable or unwilling to die at home, these kinds of hospitable spaces are so very welcome.

I share this family experience of hospice with you because I want to provide another perspective for you to consider when it comes to end-of-life decisions. One of the concerns I’ve heard from staff members of every hospice with which I’ve been connected has to do with “late referrals.”

This term indicates the folks who are referred to hospice so late in their disease process that they are clients just a matter of a few days or a few weeks. There are many reasons why late referrals happen.

I can think of only one reason why I wish persons with a terminal diagnosis might consider hospice earlier in their disease process: Their quality of life, including the quality of certain relationships, can be so much greater.

Like I said at the beginning, hospice is about much more than dying. It is also about living as well as possible during the time you have left.

One dramatic example: I was chaplain for one man with terminal cancer who was a hospice client for two years. Sometime in the second year, he and his ex-wife reconciled to the point where they asked me to marry them again.

Many misconceptions about hospice linger among ordinary people and even some medical professionals. Please look again.

I’ve experienced the so very positive power of hospice both as a professional and as a son.

If you are confronted with a terminal diagnosis in your family, I encourage you to learn more about what hospice can offer you and your family. You may be surprised at what life-affirming options you’ll find there.

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