Posts Tagged ‘aging’

Midwives for the dying: How hospice can help

March 10, 2015

hospice photoLast week a lovely young woman quietly entered my father’s room at the nursing home and asked if he was ready for his massage. He smiled up at her from his bed and said, “sure.” Then added, “if it doesn’t cost too much.”

This massage – and any others that he’ll get each week – are free to him. A free massage? How does that work? In this case, the massage is paid for by Medicare as part of the hospice services my father now receives as he approaches the end of his life. It’s one of the many benefits offered by hospice, an amazing service that I believe everyone should take advantage of as they  prepare to leave this earth.

I’m a hospice believer. I have been ever since I started doing PR for Providence Hospice of Seattle more than a decade ago and I’ve seen the amazing benefits people at the end of their lives get from hospice. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization defines hospice this way: “Considered the model for quality compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness, hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes. Support is provided to the patient’s loved ones as well. Hospice focuses on caring, not curing. In most cases, care is provided in the patient’s home but may also be provided in freestanding hospice centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities. Hospice services are available to patients with any terminal illness or of any age, religion, or race.”

In my work and as someone who has seen family members cared for by hospice, I have witnessed amazing compassion, caring and healing at a very difficult time in people’s lives. I’ve seen an estranged daughter reunited with her father. I’ve seen veterans honored in one last ceremony to mark their military service to this country. I’ve seen a young cancer patient comforted by a hospice therapy dog.

And I’ve seen the benefits of hospice in my own family. When my uncle was dying of congestive heart failure several years ago, he got to the point where the doctors recommended hospice care for him. Some family members objected, believing that this would mean he was “giving up” and wouldn’t get the care needed to continue to live. He was sent from the hospital to a hospice facility, where he was expected to die within a week. But, because of the amazing care he received there, he actually recovered! He got well enough to leave. While on hospice he received intensive nursing care, which allowed him to better manage his illness to a point where he was even able to travel to his winter home in Arizona. At that point he was literally kicked off of hospice care, as his condition improved so much that he no longer had a life expectancy of six months or less (needed to qualify for hospice care). We were told at the time that he’d likely be back. And sure enough, he was back eventually. He did die while on hospice care, back at the hospice facility – 18 months after he first received hospice services. I truly believe that the hospice care he received prolonged his life. And with that he got to spend more time with loved ones, travelled, and even saw a reconciliation between family members who before that didn’t get along.

My father started receiving hospice care two weeks ago. He doesn’t have any diseases. But at age 96 he’s what I call “terminally old.” He finally qualified for hospice care when he got pneumonia. I wondered how hospice could help since he’s already in a nursing home and has nurses buzzing around him 24/7. I was assured hospice would add additional services. And sure enough, he sees the hospice nurse at least once a week, the hospice social worker at least every two weeks, the hospice chaplain, a hospice volunteer, and the sweet massage therapist. Medicare pays for hospice care, so it doesn’t cost him (or anyone else who receives hospice care) a dime. The hospice team also is there for family members – to answer questions, offer advice, and to simply listen. They are as concerned with the family’s health as they are with the patient’s health, since we all know that dying isn’t easy for anyone.

But the hospice workers help us through it. After my uncle died, I asked one of the hospice nurses how she could do this very taxing job. She responded simply, that she felt like a midwife. Instead of helping usher a baby into this new world, she helps usher the dying into their new world – whatever that is. What a great statement. It will stick with me forever.

Saying goodbye to a home full of memories

October 28, 2014

He sat on his walker in the dining room where he and his wife entertained many guests in the 1960s and ’70s – when the beautiful Ralph Anderson house was new. He surveyed the sunken living room below and the view of Lake Washington and the Mercer Island floating bridge.

101_1058Strewn around him were the remnants of what had once decorated (filled to the brim, actually), this masterpiece he helped envision and build in the prime of his life, this personal museum and ode to the artwork and collections he pieced together with years of shopping and incredible love.

Downstairs, relatives searched through his stuff. So much stuff. Hundreds of paintings he created over his lifetime. Books that had sat on shelves, most unread. Tools. Art supplies. Clothes. Masks. China. Souvenirs from world travels. Hats. Fishing poles and reels. Old long wooden skis. Treasures.

The summary of his 93 years. Up for grabs. The relatives were respectful, asking if they could have this. Did he mind if they took this? “Is this one of your paintings? Would you mind signing it?” one asked, glad to have found it. “Is this Sun Valley? We used to live there. It’s meaningful to us,” another said upon finding three sketches of the Idaho ski town where he went with friends in the 1950s. “Yes, let me tell you about that trip,” he said.

This scene played out recently at my father’s Mercer Island home, which he had built with my mother in 1964; where he lived for 47 years until it became too much for him to care for with its many rooms and stairs and things. So many things. Although he had hoped to die there, he realized as his age started getting the best of him, that he needed additional help. He moved to a retirement community about a year ago, at age 92. By then mom had been gone 20 years.

But what about the stuff? Thousands of pieces of artwork and doodads collected over the years. African art. Mexican masks. Native American masks and artifacts. Hundred-year-old Native baskets. China and silver from his mother’s house. Dozens of wooden carvings. A room full of Middle Eastern crafts, tapestries, puppets and household items – in a red color scheme designed around a bright Oriental rug. Clothes (many that had never been worn). Magazines, saved from day one. Newspapers heralding important events. Paintings from Northwest artists. And papers. So many papers. Bank statements, check stubs, bills, Christmas cards, love letters, correspondence with far away relatives and friends, travel brochures, maps, art show announcements. Nothing was ever thrown away. Nothing. He prided himself on doing without garbage service. Mercer Island, after all, had a recycling center. But really – was anything ever taken there?101_1044

A historian late in life, he was the keeper of the family history. He was born in Victoria, B.C. His father immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine (between Germany and France). His mother grew up in San Francisco, but the family roots are in England. Mom fled the Island of Rhodes (then Italian; now Greek) during WWII. Nazis came five years later and shipped the remaining Jews to Auschwitz. All but 152 perished. He loved and respected this family history  – his and his wife’s – and kept all the records – photos, letters, documents.

He organized most into boxes and notebooks. But a few escaped his memory – or just got lost in the piles of other things. Amid the check stubs, old clothes and insignificant travel memorabilia – treasures waiting to be uncovered under four decades of dust.

By the time we invited the relatives to have at it my brother and I had already spent countless hours and weekend mornings going through every scrap in the year since he moved out. One day we were unpacking a coffin-sized art deco style cedar chest at the bottom of one downstairs closet. It contained mainly my mother’s clothes from the ’50s and ’60s – a cashmere sweater, some wool skirts, a couple of dresses (all well preserved because the moths had been successfully repelled). A tailed topcoat that likely belonged to a great-grandfather. And then, at the bottom – two documents, laid flat between tissue papers: Italian diplomas marking my mother’s graduation from elementary school and middle school in Rhodes – 1932 and 1935. Extremely rare. Who had time to take these things with them across the world when being exiled from the homeland? Upstairs in the linen closet – a thick bed cover, embroidered throws and two boxes of needlework – also from Rhodes. Big find no. 1.

Big find no. 2? Two weeks later, amid the Boeing memorabilia, drawings of the Ms. Thirftway hydroplane (a university class project my father did in 1955. They’ve since been donated to the hydroplane museum) and a box marked “hair and teeth” was a non-descript roll of paper with penciled handwriting on the outside tissue paper. A note from my father’s mother to her two children: “Silk portraits of your great-grandfather Lewis Lewis painted in 1889 in China.” My brother and I carefully unrolled them. They were in pristine condition – Lewis Lewis, his wife Rachel. Lewis Lewis wasn’t just some guy. He’s famous in Victoria, B.C. as a successful businessman who paid for the Jewish cemetery, served as president of his synagogue for eight years and founded the Victoria Masonic Lodge. My father had never seen the portraits. He said his mother would be happy that they’d been preserved. The Victoria synagogue is anticipating their arrival in time for the 150th anniversary celebration next year.

101_1030Then there were the other little surprises: One porn magazine and $230 in uncashed traveler’s checks.

Many treasures found amid some resentment. Who keeps all this stuff? Who has the time to shop for it all? If the money was instead put into the stock market would everyone be better off? Was there ever any consideration about what would happen to it all – and who would go through it? It wasn’t pure junk (though some of it was). Much of it was actually quite valuable – either monetarily or historically.

As my father sat there surveying his home for what likely will be one of the last times he goes there (it will go on the market soon after the estate sale) my aunt asked him how he felt. He’d spent decades amassing his collections, putting together his displays. How did he feel about it literally walking out the door?

“I’ve had my enjoyment out of it,” he said. “Now my family can enjoy it too.”

 

 


Bendichas Manos

a blog about living, cooking and caring in the Ladino tradition

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