ESSAY: What is Hospice?


“I inspected my mother’s darkened room and saw its soft-yellow walls and an oversized beige, leather reclining chair in the corner. Along the wall across from her bed, was a small, upholstered sofa in quiet tones of beige, yellow, rose, and pale willow green. Cherry-stained wooden Venetian blinds tilted slightly, let the sun’s narrow slits gently tumble onto the dark-stained hardwood floor. An incandescent lamp on her bedside table cast a warm glow on her relaxed face. The stark contrast of the hospital’s cold, visually harsh environment to this tranquil setting of simplicity, with its soft colors and smell of fresh linens, brought me immediate relief.
So this is hospice.
For the first time in many days, I felt my neck, shoulders, and back begin to release its tension, and I was able to breathe deeply.”

When my mother was dying, I felt all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining with myself, and depression.  But I didn’t feel those ways sequentially. Instead, all those emotions seemed to collide within me simultaneously, and I lacked control of how I felt, what I thought, and any sense of logic. I was ill-equipped to face death and knew very little about hospice before my mother entered a hospice center–in fact, I figured hospice was just a place one went to die. However, once there, my journey toward understanding death began. Through the patience, compassion, and kindness of hospice service providers and our reverend, I learned about the process of death and what to expect, leading to an understanding and finally, acceptance of death.

I realized the journey of understanding and acceptance of death could have occurred earlier had I the will and courage to research the subject, but alas, I had neither. I always knew preparation, of any kind, before an event in my personal and work life was imperative, but regrettably, I didn’t practice readiness for my mother’s event. I learned my lesson, and that is why I’d like to share my reflections on how preparation, in advance, could have helped me.

Hospice is a program and service, provided by a multi-disciplined team of professionals including doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and support team, focusing on the quality of life for those with a terminal illness: I found providing my mother comfort, dignity, and peace during her final days were absolute priorities for her hospice team, and I am forever grateful for their skillful service.

Hospice engages patients, their family, and loved ones to participate in how remaining time should be spent: As an example, my mother was unconscious during her final days, yet showed subtle signs of discomfort through facial expressions. I did not recognize her uneasiness, but her skilled and perceptive nurse readily asked me if I agreed my mother could use a calming medication. I agreed.

Hospice’s family-oriented services are provided in either the home or a hospice center: My mother was transferred from the hospital to a hospice center. The contrast of a bustling hospital environment compared to her hospice center’s quiet home-like setting was palpable and a welcome relief. But those who wish hospice care in the comfort of their home would receive services from similar multi-disciplined team of professionals as my mother.

Hospice does not accelerate or prolong death: Sometimes, patients are released from hospitals quickly to free-up a bed. Not so with my mother’s care at her hospice center–with sensitivity, compassion, and her peace and comfort in mind, hospice allowed nature to take its course on my mother’s natural timeline. I never felt her healthcare providers were “in a hurry,” but instead, they provided the gentle comfort as she required.

Hospice is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and many insurance providers: At the time of my mother’s admission to her hospice center, the administration spared me from an onslaught of excessive paperwork and administrative interviews. Focus on my mother’s comfort was exhibited from the moment she arrived, allowing our family to direct our attention to her rather than paperwork.

Where You Can Find More Information:
Every person, family member, and loved one has their unique circumstances. I outlined my own experiences that may or may not apply to others. If you have questions or would like more information about hospice, I suggest, for starters, you contact the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization with most states in the U.S. having local chapters.