No Hospice Time

Trigger Warning: Parental Death

Several of my friends have lost or are in the process of losing parents, parents who have been or are in hospice care.  I admit to being a bit envious.

When my dad was diagnosed eighteen months ago with lung cancer for the third time, he and my once-stepmother-back-together-again immediately began looking at treatment options.  The initial information was sobering — multiple lesions in his lung — and the news became more dire as a scope was recommended and then not, due to a tumor wrapped around his pulmonary artery.  I was surprised that he was considering chemo, as the brutal death of his fourth wife, from lung cancer treatment as much as from the cancer itself, had caused him to swear several years earlier never to fall victim again to such medical excess.  But the impetus to live is strong . . .

I went down to visit for a couple of days while he awaited further testing which he had inexplicably rejected a couple of weeks earlier.  I said that if the cancer had spread beyond his lungs, he might want to consider wrapping up in a sleeping bag and spending his remaining time sitting on his deck, enjoying the woods and creek below, and the birds visiting his feeder.  It was November and he was nearing 85; it seemed like a plan to me.  He seemed to hear and not to hear.

My stepmother told me later that they were hoping that the chemo would eradicate the cancer as quickly as it had appeared, and that he would have several good years left.  I decided to remain silent, and headed home, beginning to work out in  my head how I might arrange my schedule to accommodate several trips to their home four hours from mine, as I had been able to manage when my previous stepmother was dying.  I had read about tumors encasing pulmonary arteries, but I permitted myself to imagine that it would be a privilege to care for my father, if there were time in which to do so.

Three mornings later he was doing laundry just off the bedroom, and collapsed and died. Presumably that wraparound tumor had ruptured the artery. After a mad dash to the hospital and a declaration of death, the paperwork for his donation of his body to the medical school was completed and he was transported to . . . somewhere.  The test results, confirming the spread of the cancer across and into multiple areas, came back a few days later.

I admit to being a bit envious of my friends who’ve had hospice time.  I guess that conversation about the deck and the sleeping bag and the birds was it for us.


3 thoughts on “No Hospice Time

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  1. Hospice? My father died at home, four months after a diagnosis of esophageal cancer. My sisters and I did our best to attend him, because medical resources were hard to find, and what we did find had to be insisted upon in strong terms. One of the chief things I can remember after he died was actually being thankful that he passed away so quickly. He was miserable, we were lost and struggling, without support from the”health care” community…and I could not possibly imagine going through that for months or years, as some families do. Maybe a hospice time would have been more beneficial for you…I get the impression from what you write that Cleveland has a much better medical culture than Oregon does. But in the end, I think spending time with a dying loved one is at best a mixed bag..,and absolutely bears no resemblance to what they show in the movies. But you have ministered to many dying folks and their families, so you know that.


  2. I am sorry your father’s last months were so awful. My stepmother’s were similar; despite many pleas, she and my father refused to accept any outside help. Hospice offers a multi-pronged approach, with medical and spiritual and emotional and artistic resources, and for most people it makes a world of difference. But sadly, many people either don’t know about it or have access to it, or don’t take advantage of it until the last 2 or 3 days, when they and their surviving loved ones might have had weeks or months of support and encouragement. The last days can be holy ones indeed, but that takes a lot more than most of us can manage on our own, even with the best of intentions and the longest of hours.


    1. Oh, we did finally access hospice…but one of the drawbacks of the system is that the patient has to sign away his medicare benefits in order to go onto hospice. This was a big sticking point for my Dad, and it was a decision HE had to make…WE knew he was dying, but he had to accept that he wasn’t going to recover enough to have at least one or two “good” months. Once we accessed hospice, we were able to get all the things we needed in order to make him as comfortable as possible at home. But it was, indeed, only a few weeks before he died.


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