Until recent months, when I thought of Hospice, I thought of a home like facility with nursing staff that cater to the terminally ill. I believed Hospice was for those dying of cancer wishing to minimize their hospital stays without putting an undo burden on family members. This, in fact, was why the Hospice movement began in England in l967. But the movement is now reaching out in new directions.

My sisters and I began looking for assistance after my 97 year old mother fell. She was living in an apartment in a retirement community where she had managed on her own. After the fall she needed regular assistance getting to the bathroom, dressing and having her food prepared.

My two sisters and I began taking shifts staying with her around the clock. The situation came on suddenly and we were uncertain what the future held. Would she get better, or would she continue to need help indefinitely? Would it be a month or six? Would it be around the clock or part time?

Time stretched on and we still did not feel comfortable leaving her alone. We were wearing thin. She had good days and bad days and while her injuries from the fall seemed to have healed her mental capacity took a serious dip. . We found we were now staying with her for different reasons. She could get to the bathroom and sometimes get herself dressed but she would often forget what she was doing and had become a danger to herself. We were rapidly becoming depleted and still uncertain which way to turn.

My sister hired a part time aide and called Hospice. Both proved to be invaluable. Within 24 hours of placing the call to Hospice, a representative was sitting in my mother’s sitting room talking with us. She gave us literature on the dying process, a packet explaining their services in detail and prescription medications to assist in keeping my mother comfortable no matter what situation arose. She gave us the name of a nurse who would be on call for us 24/7 and set up an appointment for her first weekly visit. In addition she took the time to talk with us about our concerns regarding my mother’s future care options. It was hard to accept that all of this was being offered without a price tag. Everything they were offering was covered under Medicare.

After the Hospice Representative left we looked at each other, heaved a sigh of relief, and began moving from treading water to taking steps to getting our lives back in focus. Throughout the subsequent weeks, we called on Hospice whenever we had a concern. The nurse visited once a week as described but when we had a medical question or felt mother needed medical attention in between, we called her and she always came that very day. In addition she reported her visits and findings to my mother’s doctor. My mother’s medical care was being supervised without her having to go through the difficult process of traveling to the doctor’s office. Everything about Hospice care was proving to be very easy and extremely helpful. They knew what we needed before we even asked.

As my mother improved it became clear she would need a wheelchair. We called Hospice and they had one delivered to her door within 24 hours. The person who delivered it explained how to work it and told us to call if we had any questions.

Hospice understands the difficulties faced by caregivers but they also understand the dying process, whether it is from disease or aging. They are not afraid of it and engage it with intelligence and compassion. They were able to help us understand more clearly what my mother was going through and how it might look. It made it so much easier for us to deal with.

As our population ages, an increasing number of people are finding themselves in the situation of caring for aging parents or other family members who are working their way through the dying process. Hospice is there for anyone who is dealing with this difficult life transition and offering tools and support to anyone who asks. If we can bring ourselves to reach out and take their hand we will discover a whole new way of caring for our elderly family members. We can allow them the comfort and dignity of dying in a caring environment without depleting our financial or emotional resources.

We still spend a considerable amount of time with my mother. We oversee her care and coordinating help takes time and effort. But we know we have the support of a caring organization that will help us at the drop of a hat. I encourage anyone in need of support to call their local Hospice and get acquainted. Find out what they are offering in your area. It’s a comfort to know they are there, willing and ready to assist, should you and your family need them.

Hospice is not only for the terminally ill. Hospice is a perfect solution for the elderly as well.