I’ve just started work for Hosparus, a nonprofit hospice provider serving Louisville, Southern Indiana, and Central Kentucky. It’s a timely move for me, as I learn how to deal with the loss of loved ones myself.
Yesterday we lost our beloved, Shelby. I’ve written about her before. Someone rescued her from the side of the Ohio turnpike; she was obviously abused in her first year and a half, and much loved for the next fourteen. She left a hole in our family that can’t be filled.
Between my spouse and I, we also have four aging parents. My dad is on his second run with prostate cancer, this time spread to his bones. He struggles now to walk. Mom has suffered from short-term memory loss for the past year, though at times I can’t tell And recently she has developed difficulty with breathing that may be related to a failing heart. On our Christmas visit, dad said he thought it was time to talk about assisted living. My husband’s parents, though not sick now, are often on the verge of catastrophic illness.
My new employer, Hosparus, provides end of life care for those with a six month prognosis. When the family calls, a team of caregivers comes in, offering nursing care, help with daily routines, and spiritual and emotional support. Nurses visit, order medical devices and prescription refills, teach family members about care and generally help people know what to expect. Free grief counseling of all sorts is available for more than a year after.
Sadly, though Medicare provides six months of care, the average “stay” (which could be in the home, a nursing facility, a hospital or as a hospice inpatient) is around two weeks. Often, the care period is only a day or two before the patient dies. We strive to get patients into care sooner, offering them as well as their loved ones the end of life experience that everyone deserves.
Our goal is to make every day the best day it can be. Without Shelby, and on the verge of losing parents, I find it hard to remember what the best day might look like. But then I remember my dear husband, who whispered to Shelby (and to Maddy before her) each morning: you are a sweet girl and a good girl and a pretty girl, and I love you.
And I remember Jack, who knew his sister was in distress last night, and tried to stay near. Jack, who was lost and we found him. Jack, who depends on our care as much as we depend on his love.
In What Dreams May Come, Robin Williams’ dog comes bounding over the hills to meet him in heaven. It is a joyous moment, just after his death. I fully expect Shelby – and Maddy and Tristan and Molly and Bernadette and Penny – to be waiting for us, bounding through meadows to meet us.
For today, a dusting of snow coats the garden in honor of our beloved Husky/Shepherd. In her memory, until we meet in the meadows of heaven, we will love each other and Jack as best we can.