In the past five years, hospice of CNY has expanded its mission to include palliative care, and has broadened its partnership with hospitals, nursing homes, and other community organizations whose focus also includes end of life care.
During this same time, 80-year-young Warren Stewart, my father-in-law, was beginning a different kind of partnership with a community of caring people. Through a system of care already in place, he was offered options for end of life care that would ultimately support him and his family through his death.
Warren had enjoyed a 59 year marriage, a son, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, 41 years as employee and supervisor at Nestle, as well as clubs, music, sports and travel. He had been a resident of Fulton. All his life, his safe and comfortable community would eventually become small and more narrow as he focused his diminished energy on his own aging and chronic illness.
In 1996 I watched him watch his wife die of a chronic illness in a hospital, fully resuscitated on machines. He never recovered from her death, nor did he change his belief that he should have "done more" to keep her alive.
His friendships were lost through years of many deaths. (We later found his memories of those friends, journaled, with pasted obituaries, punctuated with "Good friend", "Like a brother," "God bring you comfort") His home was sold, and he moved to an assisted living facility. His travels now were to five different doctors, the Wound Care Center, out-patient surgery, eye doctors. His visitors were family and home care nurses twice a day (they brought him pie). His constant companions were grief, a darkened room and his television.
A year ago, his relationship with the caring community was altered, and ultimately improved, as he agreed to a move to a newly renovated home for eight seniors in Liverpool, New York. At "The House at 807" he made new friends, he bought new clothes and furniture, he tried new food and ate three huge meals a day. He took drives with family, he entertained at holidays, and, last November, he decided against the aggressive treatment recommended by his physician for yet another newly-diagnosed disease.
Warren had done his advance planning. A healthcare proxy had been in place for years, and he agreed to at-home Do Not Resuscitate order. He became weakened and in May, after two hospitalizations and visits from another home care agency, still determined not to pursue curative treatment, defeated in body but not in spirit, he consented to receive hospice care at home.
Without much conversation, he allowed new "strangers" from "the community" into his home and his life. One by one the entire hospice team entered his room at 807: nurses and social workers, a sports-loving chaplain, a volunteer, on-call nurses, a nurse for daily dressing changes, companies delivering oxygen, a wheelchair, a life line, medications. Private-hire help got him through a "spell." Through it all, he never talked about hospice or dying or death. He was tied up with living.