As the holidays approach, my thoughts are with my family, specifically with my deceased Dad. Three years ago this fall, my father was in hospice care at the same rural nursing home where his own father spent his last days. At the age of 80, my Dad was dying of cancer and did not want to undergo any further surgery or chemo drugs to prolong his life. He chose to die while receiving morphine for the increasing pain he endured from the growing tumors in his abdomen.
In October, 2013, I took time off of work and visited him while he was in hospice care. After signing in at the desk, I walked into my Dad’s private room which was furnished with a comfortable recliner where he spent much of his time, a television, a dresser, a small refrigerator, and a bed. He also had his own bathroom. His room also had two corner windows which let in an abundance of natural light and gave him a view of a small, but pretty little yard.
My Dad looked forward to the periodic visits of his two hospice nurses; it didn’t hurt that they were young and attractive. I was present during one of their visits and was relieved that they were very caring, loving individuals who only had my Dad’s comfort in mind. They made changes to his oxygen and medication as he needed.
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), “The term ‘hospice’ can be traced back to medieval times when it referred to a place of shelter and hospice care provider rest for weary or ill travelers on a long journey. The name was first applied to specialized care for dying patients by physician Dame Cicely Saunders, who began her work with the terminally ill in 1948 and eventually went on to create the first modern hospice-St. Christopher’s Hospice-in a residential suburb of London. Saunders introduced the idea of specialized care for the dying to the United States during a 1963 visit with Yale University.”
As a family, we were glad our father choose to live his final days with dignity and the freedom to make his own choices through hospice care. For instance, during my visit I was able to take him out for the day. We drove through the back roads of Iowa to watch farmers out harvesting their crops. We also stopped at one of his favorite pubs where he was able to visit with family, old friends and neighbors, as well as have lunch and a drink. He frequented this pub quite often when he still lived and worked on his nearby farm. We even played a game of pool together. On the way back to his residence, he asked me to drive by the grain elevator to see how many wagons or trucks were lined up to dispense their corn and soybean harvests into the silos.
On the last day of our six-day visit, I entered his room and noticed he had dressed up a little, even wearing his black dress shoes. He was sitting in his recliner having a cup of coffee. We visited for a couple of hours as he was feeling pretty well. At one point during the conversation, he bravely stated, “I will probably never see you again.” I replied, “I know, but let’s not talk about that now.” When it was time for me to leave to return home to Colorado, Dad stood and embraced me. We both said, “I love you.” I turned away and walked out of him room crying all the way to the airport.