Reflections of a hospice caregiver: Memories of Gramps
By Michelle Gies, BSN, RN, CHPN
We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.
Madame DeStael (1766-1817)
I spent most of my life living in fear of losing my grandfather. He lived with my family from the time I was five years old. My grandfather and I built a friendship over those years that I will always treasure. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and smile.
During the last few years of his life he was in and out of the hospital. When the decision had to be made for hospice, he made it himself – wanting to live the rest of his time at home with us. What a blessing!
Gramps only lived two weeks on hospice. In those two weeks we had the opportunity to care for him, talk with him, and watch him come to terms with knowing his life on Earth was ending. With the help of the hospice team to keep him comfortable, we were able to give back to the man who had given us so much throughout our lives. I often think back to the conversations about his life. He was clear: “I have had a great life. I talked with the man upstairs, I talked with all of you, and I am ready.”
As hard as that was to hear, it was also comforting to know that he was mentally prepared and ready to reunite with his wife whom he lost at a very young age. And he did reunite – and we were privileged to witness it – he actually was speaking to her in his last 24 hours.
While we all are satisfied that Gramps died knowing how very much we all loved and appreciated him, there are a couple of things that I would have done differently now that I am more educated in hospice. One of the things I would have done is have Gramps dictate letters to each of the great grandchildren. They were at various ages when he died and I think that he would have enjoyed it and they would have treasured it. It would have also been a project that would have given him something to do because he was so active and suddenly became bed bound.
One of the things that we still talk about is the way that Gramps suddenly stopped taking in food. This was a man who enjoyed every morsel of his meals. At his eulogy we spoke of how he would look at a boston cream donut as one admires fine art! However, during this time he began to eat less and less. Finally, all he would ask for is crushed ice. We never forced him and for that we are thankful. The body knows how to prepare itself and he never choked on his food or had other associated difficulties.
Watching your loved one go through the end-of-life process is physically and emotionally difficult. It takes a strong family to pull together to provide around-the-clock care. Having your loved one die at home, surrounded by the people who love them is truly a wonderful gift. Hospice is the team that gives you the guidance, support and encouragement to provide that gift. If you are concerned that you might miss doing something meaningful as we did, ask the hospice team for ideas that will be special to your family.