Hospice: For one family dealing with dying, the natural choice | PostIndependent.com

Hospice: For one family dealing with dying, the natural choice

Post Independent Photo/Jim Noelker

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Just like everybody on the planet, every single day, Marcia Haberman of Battlement Mesa is getting closer to the end of her life.

However, because Marcia, 70, has terminal cancer, her journey has accelerated over the past few months.

“Mom had such a good week a couple weeks ago,” said Marcia’s daughter, Suz Hutchinson. “This past week and a half we’re really seeing a turn.”

Helping Marcia and her family every step of the way has been Roaring Fork Hospice, the region’s nonprofit agency affiliated with Valley View Hospital that helps terminally ill patients and their families cope with the dying process.

“If it weren’t for hospice, I think I’d have lost it already,” said Suz, speaking from her house in Grand Junction. “I’m only about 40 miles away from Mom and Dad’s, but it would feel like a million miles except for hospice coming in and helping us. From the back rubs, to the washing of Mom’s hair, they are incredible.”

A safe and trusting environment

Suz said it was natural to ask Roaring Fork Hospice for help when her mom and her family were told of the severity of Marcia’s cancer.

Together, Marcia, her husband Chuck and the couple’s grown children decided to turn to hospice care, which provides a staff of nurses and counselors for individuals going through the final phase of life.

“It came naturally,” Suz said of the decision to turn to hospice. “They care so much. To know that someone is there to take care of Mom physically, emotionally and spiritually when I can’t be there, and to support Dad too ” I can’t describe what that feels like.”

Roaring Fork Hospice counselor John Lutgring said he’s observed that the more planning that goes into end-of-life decisions, the better the outcome for the patient and family and friends.

“It’s tough bringing up the idea of the end of life,” Lutgring said. “It takes a safe and trusting environment.”

Hospice can provide that kind of environment, Lutgring said.

“You need to be willing to have those tough conversations,” said Lutgring. “And you can get as specific as you want. You can specify if you want to spend the last three weeks of your life at home with your dog, rather than having a transplant in the hospital, hooked up to dialysis with no guarantees on the quality of your life. You’re allowed to define what ‘quality of life’ really means.”

In Marcia’s case, Lutgring said she’s been able to make those choices, which includes having friends and family around and receiving hospice care at home, in familiar, comfortable surroundings.

“She’s had the time and the ability to decide how the end of her life will go,” Lutgring said. “That’s a result of her maturity. And her family has embraced her decision-making process.”

Life and death

Tim Heflin, director of Roaring Fork Hospice, said he’s encouraged by the number of people who are taking advantage of hospice care. According to the Colorado Hospice Organization, in 1997, 7,200 patients were admitted to hospice care in Colorado. In 2002, that number was up to more than 12,000.

Even still, Heflin said he’d like to see people access hospice for longer periods of time ” and not just in crisis situations with days to live. Only 6 percent of patients admitted to hospice died after 180 days of care. Instead, 32 percent of patients admitted to hospice died after just seven days or less of hospice care.

Heflin said the reason for this could be that it’s often difficult for people in 21st century America to openly discuss dying. Part of the reason, he said, is because modern American society is often far removed from the concept of death.

“Hundreds of years ago, families lived close to one another, and death was a normal part of living,” Lutgring said. “Death occurred in the home so that every member of the family ” from infants to spouses to grandparents ” embraced the loss together.

“Burials often occurred on a family’s property, giving everyone an opportunity to grieve. Children participated in this process. They weren’t protected from it, but experienced the cycle of life and death along with everyone else.”

American culture today is much different.

“Nowadays, families are spread out, and as a society we are so busy,” Lutgring said. “We distance ourselves from people who are dying; we think in terms of a cure and of medical processes.”

But for Suz Hutchinson, hospice has given her mother and the rest of her family a loving and caring setting for the end of life.

“The entire staff knows us and cares about us,” said Suz. “They’re the closest to being family without being blood relatives.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518


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