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Sonoma County Gazette
Cloverdale Comments by Carol Russell and Reece Foxen

Hospice Care

Dec 29, 2017
by Carol Russell


Do Not Count the Days, Make the Days Count.—Muhammad Ali

Hello, it’s Reece. Recently, a wonderful new book brought back memories of the mid-70s when I worked as a psychologist in a Mental Health Department with a colleague, who was also a good friend. She had a client of many years who had become terminally ill. 

After driving my usually composed friend to her client’s medical facility, I’d drive her out into the desert so she could deal with her unexpressed frustrations and strong feelings, especially those around dying, by throwing rocks. Only then could we talk through what had happened in that day’s therapy session.

Living well right up to the moment we die. . . what a concept! Yet it’s one that too few of us consider. We can get caught in the disease and the distress of our situation, or that of a loved one, and eventually everyone in our life joins us there. Thankfully, there is a solution: hospice care.

The first hospice originated in the 11th century as a place of hospitality for guests/strangers, eventually becoming a place to care for the sick and dying as well as the travelers. 

In the 1960s, Cicely Saunders, a British nurse and physician, incorporated the idea that dying involved psychological and spiritual aspects, not just the physical, thus laying the foundation for a modern perspective on dying. In the early 1970s, Florence Wald established Hospice, Inc. in the U.S. and Elisabeth Kübler Ross, M.D., spoke to the medical profession in her renowned book,On Death and Dying.

Freelance writer/columnist Paula Wrenn and nurse/professional hospice caregiver Jo Gustely met when Paula’s husband, Jim, was diagnosed with a terminal illness and decided to do hospice.   

After his death, these two Cloverdalians collaborated on Dying Well with Hospice: A Compassionate Guide to End of Life Care to share Paula’s and Jim’s journey while giving readers helpful guidelines for sitting by a loved one, watching the natural process of dying, and coping with our own feelings and fears as we accept that the time has come for him or her to leave.

The authors also help each of us find a way to move through our own time by creating the greatest peace we can for ourselves and our loved ones, even as we leave them behind. They show us that those who choose to end treatment have not “given up”, rather they are embracing life (all phases of life!) by living the time they have left here to its fullest.

Dying Well with Hospice gently encourages us to find peace by thinking forward and planning in advance for our own comfort and care in the final months and days. It is about dying and caring for those who are dying. It is about planning those last days, taking the time to put your “house” in order, taking the time to say goodbye to those you love, and creating the atmosphere that makes everyone comfortable so they can say their goodbyes, too. Here’s just a sampling of the authors’ wisdom: 

“Thinking of the natural death process as part of life helps facilitate conversations and normalize the experience. . .”

“The best advice we received. . . was to consider quality of life above extraordinary life-extending measures. . .”

“When difficult questions are answered, some dying patients can better focus on living their final days.”

“Self-care for the caregiver is critical. Brief times away from caregiving. . . can be renewing and restorative.”

“Don’t hesitate to use good times to create memories with loved ones. . . Taking a long-dreamed-of-trip can be a gift to the patient, the family, and to the caregiver.”

Death is a topic most of us avoid, whether our own or the death of another. A full life is one of passion. Leaving it our self or letting go of those we love is part of the passion of living. Given the time to accept the inevitability of death, “many hospice clients genuinely want to know about their process.” When we have thought about our own death or that of a loved one, we will be more comfortable and, maybe, even curious about what lies ahead. When we have considered the difficult questions, we can focus on truly living well.

Dying Well with Hospice is available now at Amazon/Kindle and is coming soon to local bookstores.


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