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Tough Talks

Conversations about end-of-life care are never easy—but necessary to ensure the best care for loved ones.

by Deborah Boerner Ein

As we gather with family around the table next week, it’s a good time to give thanks for the people who brought us to adulthood, whether they be parents or guardians—and to check on how we might care for them as they cared for us.

For my part, I was blessed with a mom and dad who both lived well into their 90s. In my family, it was an unwritten code that the generation ahead of us, if at all possible, would be cared for in the home, surrounded by the people and things that they loved.

In this week’s cover story, “Hospice is All About Living,” Stephanie Farrell outlines some of the steps that can be taken, perhaps over the holidays as brothers and sisters are together, to meet the needs of parents right now—and to ask the hard questions so that the future yields the best possible outcome.

We had two very different end-of-life situations, with my dad failing physically along with some dementia for the last few years of his life. Mom, on the other hand, was doing her word searches and watching Jeopardy just days before her body gave out. Neither situation is easy—for the loved one or the caregivers.

My sister, having called on hospice for Dad before his death in 2019, knew just what to do a year and a half later for Mom. The circumstances with Mom were complicated by the pandemic, as far as visits from friends and family members were concerned. For much of that year and a half without Dad, she was limited to masked visits along with air hugs and kisses—necessarily so, but really difficult.

All her life, Mom was a caretaker, first helping with younger siblings (there were seven of them), then caring for her mother who lived with us for three decades after the death of my grandfather. It must have been tough for Mom to reverse those roles and have her children care for her; she did speak of being a burden from time to time.

We had Mom on hospice care—Angelic Health, in fact—for the last six weeks of her life and Mom always had a smile on her face to greet the nurses and aides. I have to think she was delighted that we were getting help after several years of caring for both her and Dad.

Much of the advice and scenarios in Stephanie’s story ring true as to things we did or did not do. For example, did we ask Mom what she wanted for her services? No, we did not but since she made decisions along with us for Dad’s funeral we knew that she would choose the same. The funeral director asked if she wanted to choose for her own services at that time; she declined, and we honored those wishes.

This week’s cover story also points out that many feel in hindsight that they did not call in hospice care soon enough. We made that mistake the first time, not the second.

I will say that everything stated in Stephanie Farrell’s story we found to be true of Angelic Health. They never pushed anything on us but allowed us to choose what services we felt would best suit our needs.

I was reading something recently where a caregiver asked her father’s doctor how she would know that it was time to set up hospice care for him. The doctor answered: “Let love be your guide.”

I would add to that: If you’re asking the question, it’s not too early to call a hospice care company to help you assess the circumstances and guide you to a decision.

Whatever hospice care agency you choose, my sister, brother, and I would suggest to everyone that they go through the learning curve before it’s actually needed.