Tag Archives: dying

The Hospice Effect

24 May

        I had been thinking about becoming a hospice volunteer for a while. It would come to me as a passing thought every now and then that I would consider for a bit and then put aside. Little did I know just how soon and how clearly my indecision would be reconciled.

Our local hospice house is on the outskirts of town on what used to be a farm place. There is a windmill and a few trees but farm fields mostly surround the house.   And, it looks like a home – not a place of death. I had tour a shortly before it opened, but had no other contact with it, other than to read the obituaries of many a local who had spent their last days and hours there.

I had become familiar with death in the most painful of ways. My oldest daughter, Elizabeth, died in 2003 from smoke inhalation from to a fire in her duplex just a few blocks from the University of Minnesota where she had just begun her sophomore year. It truly was  a “baptism by fire” and an experience I wouldn’t wish on the fiercest of enemies.

Almost eight years have passed since that fateful day, and I have come to accept that the physical presence of my beautiful daughter is gone forever. Her spirit, however, continues to burn bold and bright in my life, giving me the needed comfort and peace I so desperately sought in those early days, weeks and months.

My 82-year-old mother-in-law, Betty, had several health problems, but she managed them completely on her own, and she lived in a beautiful apartment just a few blocks from our home. She didn’t leave home much, but she was fiercely independent and had a love for family that could not be rivaled.

On April 2nd, Betty was busy in her kitchen when she made a sudden turn, lost her balance, and fell to the floor. Luckily, she had a lifeline around her neck. She pushed it and it wasn’t long before the authorities were there to help get her to the hospital.

Our local hospital determined that her hip had been badly broken, and it would be best to transfer her to Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic, just a short 30-miles away.

It was so nice to know that she was receiving the best care the medical world could offer. She underwent surgery to repair her shattered hip. She came through with flying colors and we all breathed a sigh of relief and began to focus on what we thought would come next – a rehabilitation center to get her back on her feet again and a return to her home.

It became a rocky road however. Betty’s ongoing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as congestive heart failure (CHF), was wrecking havoc with her hip rehabilitation. She would be well enough to move to the rehab center, only after a few days to suffer intense breathing issues and end up back in the hospital. This cycle went on for an entire month.

Finally, as her family, we had to accept that, despite the fact that her hip was healing nicely, her breathing issues were not. In fact, they were chronic, and they would not improve, we were told. In fact, they would only get worse.

Betty was completely exhausted and we could all see that she couldn’t fight much longer.

Our thought pattern completely changed, and we knew that the best thing for Betty was a move to hospice to be pain free and comfortable. At that point, all we wanted was rest and peace for Betty, the matriarch of our family — a woman who was widowed at the young age of 50 after the sudden, unexpected death of my father-in-law Richard in 1979 from a heart attack.

I wasn’t that close to my mother-in-law, even though I had been a part of her family for over 30 years. Yet, that day, something compelled me to focus solely on her and I found myself continually standing at her right shoulder, patting her head, bringing cool cloths to keep her comfortable, and feeding her an occasional bite of ice cream.

The atmosphere at the hospice house was home-like and welcoming. The nurses and staff were there not only for Betty’s needs, but for ours as well. Even though we would only be with them for a short 12 hours, they very quickly felt like family.

I remember toying with the thought that, at some point, I would whisper in Betty’s ear to please give Liz a hug for me when she saw her.

With Betty resting comfortably and at the urging of the nurses, everyone except one daughter went home for the night. You need your sleep the nurses told us, and we agreed — but not until we decided that one of us would stay with Betty at all times.

Just a few short hours after returning home, our phone rang with the news that Betty was gone, she had slipped away during the early morning hours with her daughter asleep by her side.

After taking a few deep breaths and letting the news sink in, I realized that I no longer had the opportunity to ask Betty to hug Liz. As soon as I had that thought, however, I was immediately immersed with an intense sense of love and peace and the knowing that my mother-in-law was now with my daughter and she was indeed giving her that hug that I had only thought about.

A few seconds later that thought was gone. But, it was immediately replaced with a complete and utter sense of gratitude that I knew was my mother-in-law’s way of thanking me for helping her in her final hours..

My brother-in-law related a few days later, that although he had been on vacation in Georgia when he got the news, his intense sadness was quickly replaced by an extreme sense of peace – a peace given to him by his mother that there was no need to be sad. She was in a better place, she was no longer suffering, and she was reuniting with those she loved.

It’s been a few weeks now and these experiences have had the chance to sink in. My answer about becoming a hospice volunteer has clearly been answered, and I have begun the process to make that happen. Some day soon, I hope to provide the same peace and love that we received to other families who will move their loved one to hospice just as we did.

I consider it a gift — a gift given to me by God and by Betty.

I have been blessed, and now, I can be a blessing to others.

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Dr. Louis LaGrand

30 Mar

Dr. Louis LaGrand is a world-renowned grief educator and author of eight books as well as numerous articles on the phenomenon of “extraordinary experiences of the bereaved” also known as after death communication.

I first learned of Dr. LaGrand’s work when he was a guest on Carolyn Carlson’s radio program, Life After Loss.

Since that time, I have had the opportunity to share  many of my own personal extraordinary grief experiences with Dr. LaGrand, and it has been a real blessing.

Dr. LaGrand also publishes monthly ezine articles that deal with the various aspects of grief, mourning, death, and dying – but most importantly he focuses on how to heal and live life in joy.

The topic of this month’s ezine was “What To Do If You Uncover A Secret About Your Deceased Loved One.”

Reading this article reminded me of an anonymous letter we received shortly after Liz’s death.

Dear Family of Elizabeth Wencl,

I know you must be feeling incredible amounts of grief right now, and I am so sorry about your loss.  But I never got a chance to sincerely thank Liz, so I want to thank the people who brought her into this world.

When I was in high school, Liz was a senior.  Liz didn’t know me, but I guess she knew my older sister a little.  I had a crush on one of Liz’s friends.  One night at a party he decided to take advantage of that.    I was very scared and very sad, and I was crying hysterically.

I knew nobody because they were all two years older, and the guy was too busy making fun of me to care.  Your daughter saved me.  Liz asked me if I was ok.  She sat and held me and talked to me and told me that it would be ok.   The next morning she took me out to breakfast and gave me her phone number and told me if I needed anything I could call her.

To some people this may not seem like a big deal, but it was to me.  Your daughter, without knowing me, took me in under her wing.

Liz was an amazing girl.  Maybe someone in heaven needed her, like I needed her that night.  But like I said, I never got a chance to truly thank her, so I want to thank you for bringing her into this world and for bringing her up to be such a wonderful and caring girl.

The world will truly miss her.

To this day I have no idea who this girl is.  And although I am so sorry she had such a traumatic experience, I am so thankful that she was brave enough to send us such a wonderful letter.

Everyone who knew Liz, knew she loved to party … way too much.  But the fact that she was able to help someone else as she did, says alot about her true character.   As her family we are so blessed to have had her in our lives.

To learn more about Dr. LaGrand, his work and his books check out:

http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com

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