Moving beyond the pain
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Not a day goes by that Candace Gazley doesn’t think about hospice care.
She doesn’t need it anymore. In July, her mother, Phyllis Lauten, died the day after her 100th birthday.
Gazley thinks about hospice because of how amazing hospice was in the care they provided for her mother and for her.
One night, she called hospice at 3 a.m. because her mom was walking down the driveway undressed and Gazley needed to know how to handle the situation.
She really needed their help and support on one of her mom’s final mornings, when Gazley woke to what sounded like a jackhammer in her mother’s chest. A call to hospice reassured Gazley that this was a normal part of the dying process.
“It’s called the death rattle,” Gazley said. “I know now her lungs were full of liquid, but I didn’t know then.”
Pam Bohman really had no experience watching someone die until her auntie, Jeanette Friedman, passed away last February. This woman was like a mother to Bohman, helping her raise her children. But Friedman was also a very private and proud person who didn’t like to ask for help.
“It was such a relief for hospice to come in,” Bohman said. “I had never talked to anyone about end of life. The way they were able to communicate with her. This great weight was lifted. We could have an appropriate closure for someone so important to us.”
Sandy Tippett’s first experience with hospice was when her brother-in-law, then in his 50’s, became terminally ill. Now that her mom, Jeanne Stroud, is terminally ill, Tippett is grateful for this group of people who are committed to making the process easier.
“Mother had been failing for the last five years,” Tippett said. “Last June, she said, ‘No more poking, no more prodding,’ ” Tippett explained.
Jeanne Stroud, who is also the mother of Post Independent reporter John Stroud, had been in a nursing home with hospice care in Grand Junction. But traveling back and forth to Grand Junction was wearing on Tippett and her siblings. For a brief time, Tippett took her mother home with her.
Then, the family moved Mrs. Stroud to Heritage Park in Carbondale. There, HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley started working with her. The whole experience has been a blessing for Tippett and for her mother, who was a preacher’s wife.
“My mom had been doing this with my dad long before hospice came along,” she said, referring to the ministerial work her mother and father had done with the elderly and dying in their congregation.
“As many times as I know she sat there as a minister’s wife, it doesn’t make her own journey any less painful or hard,” Tippett said.
Making the journey to death less difficult and painful is exactly what hospice providers hope to do.
Sometimes that means sending volunteers to bathe patients or help with personal hygiene. It can mean home-cooked meals or assistance with ordering medications. Hospice offers private home visits by home health aids, nurses or therapists.
And, according to HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley’s chaplain volunteer coordinator Sean Jeung, it often means helping the patient or the family figure out any unfulfilled dreams, a way of asking “What’s on your bucket list?”
Hospice workers have experience with death. By listening to patients, they can often recognize patterns in people trying to die with unresolved issues. And, by recognizing the signs of dying, they can encourage family members to make their peace before it is too late.
“Hospice is comfort care that addresses the entire family,” said Jeung. “It’s about the hope of a good quality end of life. You don’t have to cure to heal.”
Jeung started working in hospice care shortly after her own mother died. In 1999, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and Jeung contacted the hospice program in her mother’s California community.
Her mother didn’t think she needed a bunch of strangers coming in her house, but she agreed to see them. It turned out to be a beautiful experience for Jeung, her siblings and her mother.
“I learned firsthand, up close and personal, how powerful end-of-life experiences are and how, with some gentle guidance, education, loving support and encouragement, families can find beautiful opportunities for growth and incredible places of healing throughout the process of companionship and caring for a loved one who is dying,” wrote Jeung in an e-mail.
The concept of hospice care began in the 11th Century. Hospices were places for the sick, wounded or dying, and for travelers and pilgrims. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when Dame Cicely Saunders, a registered British nurse, solidified the concept. Through her vision, hospice became a place or a service for terminally ill patients to receive compassionate care that addresses their end-of-life fears and pains.
Hospice in the United States has grown from a volunteer-led movement to a significant part of the health care system. In 2008, 1.45 million patients and their families received hospice care.
Today, the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County are served by two hospice providers, HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley, and by Alpine Home Health and Hospice.
Hospice service is covered by Medicaid and most private insurance plans. Hospice care can be delivered at home, but is also available to people in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals and prisons. And it’s not just for senior citizens.
“There’s no rule book about dying,” Jeung said. “It’s not just old people and it’s not just cancer.”
HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley staff recently served as companions for two children under 2 as they were dying.
“Something in our heart says this isn’t natural,” Jeung said. “It helps if you look and say, ‘Well, that was just his or her life expectancy.'”
Jeung said the mother of one of those toddlers decided after her child’s death to go to school to become a pediatric nurse, so she could use her experiences to help others.
Another misconception, according to Jeung, is that hospice means you are giving up hope of getting better. She said hospice programs have actually released patients because they have recovered. When that happens, hospice employees rejoice.
Sometimes, the biggest job for hospice workers is helping a patient discover unfinished business that is keeping them from letting go and dying.
Tippett feels she is going through some of that with her mother, who was a very strong woman who lost two husbands and still managed to raise five children.
“There’s always the pain in watching a person’s body fail them,” Tippett said. “But this is an invitation to look back over our lives. It’s about our individual journeys with our mother.”
To ease some of this tension, Tippett turns to her artwork. Early one morning, she used pastels to draw a picture of herself leaning against a tree with a face on it.
“This is me trying to get past the pain,” she said. “We’re all resting under the tree. We’ve moved though it and are in contemplation or self-reflection. This is me reaching out and needing peace.”
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.