On January 1, 2020, my father quietly took his last breath. It was the most peaceful ending that I could have envisioned for my sweet Dad. Our journey during his final months is one that I will cherish forever. It was a journey shaped by love.
Several months earlier, EMS flashed on the caller ID. Although I have worked in healthcare for nearly 20 years, there is nothing that could have prepared me to see my Dad in an ICU bed, breathing on a ventilator. Dad slowly improved, but we discovered a diagnosis of Stage IV cancer.
Throughout his hospitalization, Dad talked about the aspects of life that were most important to him: faith, family and his favorite foods. We vowed to care for him, and decided that he would come to live with my husband and me.
We settled into a weekday routine of doctor’s appointments and treatments. Weekends were reserved for faith, family and food. We were comfortable at home, but it was challenging. Caregiving was the most rewarding experience of my life; it was also all-consuming.
Dad’s energy waned after a couple of months, and he told us that he didn’t want to continue spending his best hours at the doctor’s office. We supported his decision, and talked about whether it was the right time for hospice. We talked for hours about what Dad valued most: time with family, attending church and eating his favorite foods. We decided that hospice was the right fit for our family, and Dad enrolled in St. Francis Reflections Hospice a few days later. My colleagues quickly became an extension of my family.
Hospice made everything so much easier. We were able to devote more of our energy to spending time with Dad instead of managing every aspect of his care. Our nurse arranged to have equipment and medications delivered, and she came to visit us regularly. The massage therapist helped so much with his stiff muscles and aching bones.
The first three months that Dad was on hospice were fairly routine. He often wanted to eat bacon for breakfast and pie for dinner. We indulged every request, and enjoyed our meals together. In December, his strength and stamina started to decline. The days became more challenging, but they are some of my fondest memories. Our focus was solely on the simple joys in life. We arranged a special family Christmas, knowing in our hearts that it would be our last.
After that joyous weekend, Dad slowly faded away. On New Year’s Eve, he fell into a deep sleep. He was comfortable, but I was scared. Two hospice nurses spent most of the day at our home, providing comfort and reassurance. They were so kind as they helped me through an emotionally draining day. Dad passed away the next morning. It was surreal, but also very peaceful. Our hospice nurse provided so much support, compassion and love on that sacred day. St. Francis Reflections Hospice was truly a gift to our family.