Hospice as a blessing for a family

Looking back more than three years, I would call them angels of mercy. At the time, as they sat at our dining room table, I probably thought of them more as messengers of death. The two women weren't any sort of messengers, in fact. They had simply answered my wife's request.

Earlier in the week, my wife had told her oncologist she wouldn't be having a second round of chemotherapy to attack the cancer that had now metastasized to her lungs. The very likely complications - the horrid and debilitating side effects - weren't worth the very slim chance of extending her life only a few months.

Instead, still feeling good and able to get around well, she would spend the rest of her life living as fully as possible, she and I had decided.

Her decision of no more measures to fight the cancer's return (after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments two years earlier) meant she was eligible for hospice care. I had completely agreed with her decision. It was her quick "yes" to hospice that stopped me in my tracks.

But my wife had never been one to stop. In many ways, she seldom slowed down. She rested and regrouped, but she was always one to forge ahead. She didn't want to die, but she wanted to be as ready as possible for her death. She wanted that for me, and for our children and grandchildren, too.

Hospice social workers and nurses helped fill out forms, brochures to consider, arranged visiting schedules. I served our visitors coffee and chocolate chip cookies and wanted to be anywhere but there, except I wanted to be with her as much as possible over the coming, the fleeting, the precious, months ahead.

We also were offered a hospice spiritual counselor, but a priest from our church helped with that. I'm sure he, too, would have come to the house, but my wife was able to get to our parish.

Over the months that followed, both hospice professionals answered our questions, addressed our concerns, anticipated our needs and provided for them. My wife and the rest of the family received all of that help because she had so quickly, and so bravely, called in hospice, not just for herself, but also for those she loved so dearly.

I hated that she needed hospice care, but what a blessing it was for us and can be for families who need this service.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015