Hospice is about helping people find meaning as they transition in their journey. It’s about helping people to live out their last days well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that death isn’t still a part of life. Many of our patients live in a facility, be that a skilled nursing home, a memory care center, or something similar. Many of these places put more than one patient in a room. That was the case for one of our hospice patients. She and her roommate had lived in the same room for more than three years. They became good friends and confided in one another, telling each other everything. But the day finally came where the roommate passed away, leaving our patient alone for the first time in three years. She was having a difficult time coping, and was unable to get her hands on a copy of her roommate’s obituary; she had wanted to go to her funeral.
I was alerted by one of our hospice nurses that our patient was “not herself” and could use some support in regards to the loss of her friend. So I went to her facility to pay her a visit. As we were talking, our conversation shifted to her feeling badly that she was never able to read her friend’s obituary or find out when her funeral was. Since the facility had a wireless network, I connected to it and looked up her friend’s name in an effort to find her obituary. I found it right away, and brought it up on my cell phone for our patient to read. She was grateful for the opportunity to finally read it, but sad to learn that her friend’s funeral had taken place earlier that same day. I felt bad, too, but then I noticed something. The online obituary had a guestbook. So I asked our patient if she wanted to electronically sign the guestbook and leave a message for her friend’s family to see. She was overjoyed that she could still tell her friend’s family how she felt about their loved one, even though she was not able to go to her funeral. In addition, the website had a feature where an electronic candle could be lit as well. We did both. This week, when I see our patient again, I am going to bring her a printout of her roommate’s obituary and the electronic guestbook that shows her comment and has a picture of the e-candle she lit.
This is what it means to be in hospice. As a staff, we work with our patients to help them engage in meaningful activities and live their days well. We help them to take care of any unfinished business or fulfill obligations they still have a desire to fulfill. We help them live their lives as they want to, and support them along the way.