The Power of Friendship

The purpose of any hospice volunteer program is to provide companionship and support to patients. But in Hospice of the Red River Valley Volunteer Bethany Freeland’s experience, the program provides so much more than companionship. As a pre-med major and current hospice volunteer, Bethany’s experiences are shaping her mindset and enhancing skills that she will take with her into the working world.

When she first heard about the opportunity to volunteer with Hospice, Bethany was intrigued. She submitted her application and got involved quickly, first meeting with Kristi, a volunteer coordinator with Hospice of the Red River Valley, and completing volunteer training in September 2015. “It was simple and easy,” she said.

Bethany Freeland

Bethany was paired with Hank, a male patient in his 80s. Thanks to a previous volunteer experience with an adopt-a-grandparent program and the fact that two of her grandparents were served by Hospice, she felt she would be comfortable in whatever situation she found herself in.

But like most people who don’t have an intimate knowledge of hospice care, she wasn’t sure what to expect from Hank or what hospice care would be like. “I just didn’t know how sick he would be,” she said. “I was a little apprehensive about that, but it’s a good thing, being a pre-med person, seeing that side of illness.”

Her worries were unfounded, and Bethany and Hank “clicked” right away. “We really meshed well together; we hit it off right away,” she shared. They both grew up in small towns, came from farming families and played the trumpet.

“Every time I go we find different things to talk about that we both enjoy. I feel like we never have the same conversation twice.” Bethany said Hank loves to tell stories from his past. “It’s nice for him to relive those big moments in his life, the happy moments,” she said. “I feel like he gets a kick out of looking back on his life and all of the things he’s done.”

They share walks, jokes, lunch and cups of coffee at the cafe inside of the nursing home where he lives. “During the summer we always go and sit outside … we work on our tans a little bit,” she said, laughing.

Volunteer Coordinator Kristi has witnessed the connection between Bethany and Hank firsthand. Kristi was visiting Hank’s nursing home and saw the two eating lunch together in the cafeteria. “Hank was very happy to share with me, with a big smile and a twinkle in his eye, that ‘Wednesdays are our day, right Bethany?’

Bethany agreed with a gracious laugh, ‘Yes, Wednesday is our day to eat together,’” Kristi shared. “It’s obvious to me that Bethany is a very important visitor in his life. She brings a little bit of sunshine with her wherever she goes.”

Bethany says Hank is active, is a “social butterfly,” works out every day, has an upbeat personality and sees his family often. But the end-of-life is a sensitive time for everyone, even those withBethany Freeland_pull quote_2 the most positive outlook on life. Bethany said he occasionally shares his worries with her. “Volunteering has made me more compassionate and more empathetic toward people,” she said. “You can see what they’re struggling with at that time, more of the emotional side of sickness, rather than just the physical side.”

These conversations have created a unique bond for Bethany and Hank. She doesn’t view this time as strictly volunteering. “It’s like a time to hang out with a friend,” she explained. And friendship and companionship are very important, especially at the end-of-life. “When I’m there, if he’s having a bad day, he gets cheered up and he perks up a little bit,” she said. “And when I leave, he says, ‘You made my day.’”

After one visit, Hank told her that she and her friendship had saved his life. That interaction made a strong impression on Bethany. “I thought that was kind of different because you don’t think you’re saving their life. You’re not really doing anything medical, but just the friendship … I got that feeling inside that I was doing more than just being his friend.”

Hank’s Hospice of the Red River Valley social worker, Katie, is happy that Bethany has taken such an interest in Hank and his life. “Every time I visit this patient, he talks about his ‘friend from Concordia’ and how much he enjoys their visits,” she said. “I know that he enjoys their time together, and he looks forward to their visits. Bethany is truly adding to Hank’s quality of life!”

As she continues her education, Bethany feels she is benefiting from volunteering with Hospice. Learning how patients feel, what their concerns are, how to interact with people you don’t know well, how to build a bond with a patient—Bethany believes these skills will help her in her future career.

“[A patient’s] mood is so important at end-of-life, and if you have a bad mood, your health kind of goes down with it. [End-of-life] isn’t the dark and gloomy that most people think of,” she said. “It can be happy. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but you can still have a good time and think about the positive things.”

And as for her initial uncertainty about working with someone receiving hospice care, Bethany said she really had nothing to worry about. “I would do it a million times over again,” she shared. “It has helped me grow as a person. I just love it so much.”

*The patient’s name has been changed to respect his privacy.

Husband Entrusts Hospice to Care for His Wife in Her Final Year

Larry and Marcella
Larry holds a photo of his late wife Marcella.

Beginning with a long courtship and throughout 63 years of marriage, Larry and Marcella MacLeod experienced a life together full of depth, adventure and, above all, love. Both small-town natives, they knew of each other because they were from neighboring towns, but they each moved away to pursue successful careers. It wasn’t until several years later that Larry and Marcella would come together as a couple.

Larry built his legacy in the education and athletic arenas, starting out as an English teacher and eventually moving into athletics for more than 35 years at Minnesota State University Moorhead as the head men’s basketball coach, and later, the athletic director.

Marcella found success as an administrative assistant initially working for the State Department in Washington, D.C., during WWII, then moving to Rochester, Minn., to work alongside the chief administrator at Mayo Clinic. Her path eventually brought her back to the Red River Valley, working at WDAY in Fargo.

Larry MacLeod

But it was in Moorhead, Minn., where the couple made their home, raised one son, and shared a wonderful life full of many travels and love. They were inseparable until 2011 when Marcella unexpectedly fell, breaking her hip.

After the fall, she moved into an assisted living facility for three months, and her family made plans to move her into an independent living community with Larry after she recovered. Marcella only spent one week with Larry in that new home before experiencing a second devastating fall that broke her hip again.

Larry recognized the new challenges Marcella faced meant he would be unable to care for her on his own, as they originally planned. Instead, she would reside in an assisted living facility just down the road from Larry, and he sought the assistance of Hospice of the Red River Valley to care for Marcella in the final year of her life.

“There were limits in the facility she was staying at, and I couldn’t do a lot of the things that Hospice does, as much as I might have wanted to, I couldn’t,” Larry explained. “So I decided to have Hospice come in. From what I envisioned and what I talked with Hospice staff about, I was happy with how they cared for Marcella.”

larry-macleod_pull-quoteEven though Larry wasn’t able to be with Marcella as much as he wanted to because they lived separately, he felt comfortable entrusting Hospice staff with her care. He had confidence in their ability to care for her needs, some of which included personal cares, nursing assistance and chaplaincy visits. Hospice volunteers also provided companionship for Marcella.

“It provided a lot of relief to know Marcella had that extra care,” he said. “I got the impression they [Hospice staff] did it out of the goodness of their hearts. It was obvious to me that caring for her was a labor of love, and I appreciated it.”

With the support of Hospice, Larry could focus on spending precious one-on-one time with his wife. His familiarity with the concept of hospice care through previous support of the organization also provided some peace of mind. “I don’t think it’s an end-of-life thing, necessarily,” he shared. “There are many things that can be done for a person before they die. That’s what happened in this case. She lived the best quality of life for as long as she could. I am happy they could do that for her.”

 

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A Beautiful Bond: Hospice Helps Family Live Each Day to the Fullest

Julie and CNA Arlene
Julie with Arlene, Hospice of the Red River Valley CNA

Seize the day.

In the Kottsick home, these are not just words hanging on the wall, but a daily reminder.

For the past 12 years, Julie Kottsick, a mom of two and wife of nearly 22 years, has lived with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This incurable, progressive disease attacks and disables nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As the disease has slowly progressed, Julie has lost control of voluntary muscle movement, including those used to walk, talk and breathe.

After living with this illness for more than a decade, one might think Julie and her family would be weary and resentful. Rather, they are the epitome of love and support. They know all too well that every day is a gift. And with extra care and support from Hospice of the Red River Valley, Julie’s husband, Bud, and children, Evan and Carly, can continue to care for Julie in their home as a family.

Like many families, Julie said initially it was a tough decision to choose hospice. They had done their research and knew about hospice, and the service had been recommended in support groups by others who had experienced this type of care. Julie said the determining factor for her was “a drop in my ability to be mobile and feel normal.” Bud added, “Together, you and I had several conversations about if it was time. But first we had to really understand what it meant to receive hospice care. Sometimes the connotation of hospice is scary.” “But I was ready,” Julie said.

Since December 2015, Julie and her entire family have enjoyed the benefits of hospice care. Particularly, they appreciate the visits made by hospice certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who help Julie with personal cares, such as eating, bathing assistance, and nail care.

“I have a great group of family and friends who come out and visit and make dinner and are there for us. But when I needed help with personal cares, I didn’t want my friends to have to help me with that,” Julie shared. Three times a week, Julie receives two-hour home visits for personal cares from Hospice of the Red River Valley CNAs Arlene, Ursula and Jerry.

This assistance from Hospice staff frees six extra hours in the week for Julie and her family to focus on spending quality time together and taking care of other family needs, and not worrying about providing all of her intimate cares. “I adore them [the CNAs]!” Julie affirmed. And the feeling is mutual; with the gift of time over the past many months, the Hospice CNAs have bonded with Julie and her family, and built rapport and trust.

“When I visit Julie, I see the most beautiful display of love.” Arlene shared. “I wish every school child to college student could meet the Kottsick kids, Bud, and Julie’s parents to see what life, love and support really mean. Julie is so supported by her family. It’s just this beautiful rhythm of support. They make it look so easy.”

The Kottsick family has grown and settled into a supportive “rhythm,” but being a caregiver is hard work. The family has 24/7 access to speak with a hospice nurse, emotional support from hospice social workers and specific instructions for how to best care for Julie at home.

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For Julie, Bud and the family, Hospice has been a great source of comfort. “Everyone is so nice and supportive,” Carly said. “I’ve been impressed with the quality of staff; they always find ways to help.” Carly, a high school student who helps care for her mother during the day while on summer break, said with hospice’s support she can go to school and not worry so much about her mom.

Bud agrees and said, “I don’t have to worry about everything alone. I have phone numbers and people to call for help. We had an issue a few weeks ago in the night and I made a phone call to Hospice and received a near instantaneous response. We feel more secure knowing we can rely on Hospice.” Although the Kottsick family doesn’t know what each day will bring, they live their lives true to the art hanging on their wall that Julie so lovingly adores—Carpe Diem.

 

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Northwood Resident Finds Value in Giving Back Through Hospice Volunteering

When you live in a smaller community, you inevitably become an essential fiber in the tapestry of the town. Community members grow up supporting one another and giving back whenever they can to lift up those in need, and who most likely lives down the street. This sentiment is true of Northwood, N.D., and its residents, but the quaint city also holds an extra special treasure in long-time resident Gilman Beck.

If you ask anyone in Northwood or the surrounding communities about Gilman, chances are they know him, or know of someone who’s closely tied to him. Gilman is a classic, all-around great guy with an incredible warmth and gentleness about him. Gilman has been a fixture in the Northwood community for the past 38 years, managing the local grain elevator for much of that time. “I know the people in all the towns around here,” Gilman said with a smile.

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It’s this small-town community and its residents, together with his deep-rooted faith, that got him through the most challenging time of his life—the sudden death of his son, Terry, who was just 33 years old. The loss of anyone is difficult, particularly a younger person like Terry. But with strong bonds, Gilman saw the community truly come together and embrace one another. “We received so much compassion from so many people in the community when our son died,” Gilman shared.

The outpouring of kindness and empathy from others shaped Gilman’s purpose moving forward after Terry’s passing. “I wanted to be able to give back to the community the way the community gave to me and my family,” he explained. Volunteering for local organizations, including hospice, the local ambulance service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a clerical stress management team, became the perfect outlets for Gilman as he grieved the loss of his son.

Gilman Beck_2As a Hospice of the Red River Valley volunteer for the past 16 years, Gilman provides companionship and support to those facing their last months, weeks and days of life. In doing so, he’s touched so many lives, including many people he has a personal connection with in Northwood and the surrounding area, making the experiences even more significant for Gilman and each patient.

He regularly sits with patients and responds to each person’s needs based on his or her situation. Sometimes that means sitting with a person and just listening, while other times it’s reading, singing or praying.

“It’s so surprising that they love it for the most part,” Gilman shared about his singing with patients. “Many have said, ‘Do it again!’” His go-to songs are the hymns, “In the Garden” and “Great is Our Faithfulness.” When he sings “Great is Our Faithfulness” he is reminded of his son. Gilman’s pastor shared with him that he was unintentionally humming the song while making funeral arrangements for Terry so it’s extra sweet for Gilman to share this song with patients.

“When you talk to Gilman, his voice is so reassuring; he’s a breath of fresh air. His passion and commitment to his family and his community are overwhelming. He gives back to so many people in the community. They all adore and love him,” shared Nikki Dukart, Hospice of the Red River Valley volunteer coordinator. “You know when you want to be like someone? He’s who you want to be like. He’s amazing. I can’t say enough about him.”

Gilman says when visiting with patients he often comes back “richer” than he was before his visit. “I feel like if I can help them [Hospice patients] with something, then I’ve accomplished something. I think there’s so many times when it’s nice for the patient just to visit with people,” he shared. “Each person is different and special in their own way. They are all favorites.”

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“When we place volunteers with patients, our job is to make sure it’s a good fit for the patient, and I just know right away that Gilman will be a good fit,” Nikki said. “He builds rapport and relationships easily because he knows so many people. He makes connections in so many ways. I think that’s what makes it so special for him. He knows he’s giving back to the patient, and that enriches him so much.”

Gilman’s tender heart and dedication have led him to a very special and sacred part of Hospice volunteering; he sits with patients who are actively dying and do not have someone else available to stay with them. These situations are called Pathway visits. “These visits are really very touching and interesting. Just by being with these people, I end up with a better feeling for myself,” he said. “I’ve been with many different people when they have died, and it’s nice to see people die peacefully. Hospice isn’t a scary thing.”

Gilman Beck_1Pathway visits come at any time, but the time of day or night doesn’t deter Gilman from making himself available at a patient’s bedside. He shares one story about an individual who had difficulty resting, and he told the patient he would be there until the man fell asleep, and Gilman kept that promise by not leaving until the patient got comfortable around 2 a.m. “I don’t care how long it takes. I will be there as long as the person needs me,” Gilman said. The patient passed away the next day.

Throughout the years, Gilman has experienced dozens of tender moments he fondly recalls, but what he finds most gratifying about volunteering with Hospice is how people react when they hear he’s involved with the organization. “They are elated by the care and feeling it gave them,” he said. “The patients and the public love it. Hospice is exceptional, and I’m not stretching that one bit!”

“Every day I have spent helping others has been good for me. I don’t think I had that until my son died. I love volunteering for Hospice. It will be one of the last things I ever give up,” Gilman said. “I tell people not to be afraid to volunteer. I think it’s good when people take a part in the community they live in.”

The Small Town with a Big Heart for Hospice

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Left to right: Arb Lacina, Ruby Gramlow, Virginia Hagen and Charlotte Glynn

Fullerton, N.D., is a small town. Population: 54. It’s a tightknit community whose residents have known each other for decades—growing up together, working side by side, looking out for one another. It’s a community that Ruby Gramlow knows well. Ruby lives in Fullerton and works as a nurse for Hospice of the Red River Valley. “I think I have always liked hospice,” she said,” and I’ve always enjoyed being a hospice nurse.” Ruby has also always liked to sew, first learning the skill in 4-H when she was a child. When she heard about a unique volunteer program through Hospice, she was intrigued.

Celebration Bears_1The Celebration Bears program at Hospice of the Red River Valley offers families a bear created from their loved one’s clothing. The bears, which are handmade by Hospice volunteers from a pattern, are keepsakes to remember and celebrate the memory of these individuals after their deaths. Tracy Roche is a volunteer coordinator with Hospice of the Red River Valley. When she receives requests for bears from families, Tracy disperses them to volunteers, and she collects the bears when they are completed. The bears are then delivered to family members. “Each of these ladies have provided numerous bears that have brought so much joy to our patients’ families,” said Tracy. “Our Fullerton volunteers have the biggest hearts!”

Celebration Bears_2As part of her role as a Hospice nurse, Ruby was able to deliver completed Celebration Bears to a family member after a patient’s death, and she was impacted by the experience. “Just to see the joy on his wife’s face when she got the bears … it just brought tears to her eyes,” Ruby shared. “It’s like a little piece of their loved one is coming back to them in a different way.”

She began volunteering with the Celebration Bears program in 2014. Because of the demand for the bears, Ruby decided to recruit volunteers for the program. She approached her local Catholic Church’s altar society with the idea, and three women took applications. Virginia Hagen, Arb Lacina and Charlotte Glynn soon began volunteering with the program. “I’m excited they started volunteering,” Ruby said. “They’re beautiful seamstresses. Being able to sew, it’s a talent God gave you. You’ve got to share it. It’s something we can give back.”

It turns out, most of the women were aware of Hospice prior to volunteering and had been touched by hospice care in one way or another over the years. In “this little corner of the world,” as Ruby affectionately refers to their small town, Hospice of the Red River Valley has touched many lives.

Celebration Bears_3Ruby recalls caring for the mother of one of her fellow volunteers and the father-in-law of another, and Ruby’s sister-in-law was on hospice care before her death. “She was just such a special person to this whole community,” Ruby shared. “So people here know what Hospice does and what it provides.”

The four Fullerton volunteers sew their assigned bears independently, and each woman has a story to share about her experience volunteering with Hospice.

Arb said she volunteers because it’s a way for her to help someone else out and it’s a nice change from the quilts and table runners she usually sews. “I enjoy getting the different materials,” Arb shared. She remembers being given a ladies jacket to create a bear from. “The jacket was lined, and strips were sewn on the outside. It had a big button brooch on it, and so I put it on the bear when it was done.”

“There have been some that have come through with a logo from an employer or a business or something that was special to that person,” Ruby said. She usually incorporates the logo onto the bear’s paw.

Celebrations Bears_4Special touches like the brooch and logos capture the memories and essence of the patients. And the sewers have the patient in mind while working on each bear. Virginia puts it this way: “It’s like when I make a baby quilt for one of my grandchildren … you’re kind of thinking of that person and putting a little prayer in it. I feel the same if it’s bringing comfort to the family. It’s so fun to see the different things that come out of an article of clothing. They seem to have personalities.”

Ruby remembers one special request: “One time a note came across that said, ‘Please do not wash these. I want the smell of Mom to linger,’” she said. “And of course then I had to sniff it, and it was a good smell. The mom had a good perfume, and I thought, ‘I wouldn’t want to wash it, either.’”

While Virginia doesn’t have a personal connection with Hospice, she was still interested in volunteering. “I think it’s a good organization,” she said. “It was something that I could do at home in my free time. I wish I could volunteer more seriously, but given where we live, I am happy I can do this.” Virginia’s 97-year-old mother, Rose, joins in the bear-making process when she can. Her mother suffers from macular degeneration and is no longer able to do many of her favorite activities, such as sewing, reading or playing cards.

“One day when I was doing them, she said, ‘I bet I could stuff them,’” Rose shared. “So while I sew the second set up, she stuffs the first one. She likes to be busy, so she really enjoys doing this.” Virginia once made a bear from a western-style shirt with pearl stud buttons. “Ruby suggested I could incorporate them, so I used them for eyes. It was kind of a weird looking one,” she said, laughing.

Celebration Bear_5Charlotte has been sewing for 55 years. After retiring, she decided to volunteer. “I just feel it really is a good program and so helpful to people when they really need it.” Even though the sewers always use the same pattern, she said the bears look different and have their own personality because the fabrics are unique. Her most challenging fabric was a denim shirt that had an embroidered bird on each side.

“They wanted a bird on each bear. I thought, ‘How am I gonna do this?’ But I got it done.” The challenges the women encounter while making the bears are worth the effort to overcome. “ I got a thank you from a little girl who lost her grandpa, and it warmed my heart and made me feel like it was all worthwhile,” she said.

“We don’t know where the bears go, where they end up,” Ruby said. Some of the women think it would be fun to meet the people who receive them, but as Ruby shared, they “understand we never will.” They also understand the impact the bears have.
“Tracy tells me how excited the families are when they see them. Probably because of my work with Hospice and knowledge of the special bond you create with the families, I can just imagine that extra joy.

“I think if there’s that one last connection, the family can hold on to their loved one. It’s just so special to be able to give them that. Some days, I’m sure days are harder than others [for a patient’s loved ones],” said Ruby.

“For them to hold this bear, and to let a tear or two fall, it’s a good thing.”

With Humor and Hospice, Couple Finds Peace and Comfort at the End of Life

Bill with wife, Karen
Bill with wife, Karen

When you meet Bill and Karen, you instantly feel the love they have for one another. Their faces light up with joy when they sneak a glance of each other. A quick wit and robust laughter are at the heart of their relationship. They take turns teasing each other in a healthy back and forth, always with a chuckle and a smile.

Married for 14 years, the pair has experienced many adventures together, one of which was their initial meeting at a tiny café in Luck, Wis., where Karen says she noticed quite the “character” joking with the waitress one morning. She didn’t make much of it at the time until the following day when she returned to the café, and Bill (the character) was there again. He approached her and asked if he could join her for breakfast. “I said I suppose. I got a free breakfast out of it, why not,” Karen said with a laugh. They continued to meet up for breakfast for the following six weeks and quickly got to know one another. “She has not paid me back for one breakfast,” Bill added with a chuckle. After about a month, they went out on an official date, and according to Karen, “The rest is history!” Bill razzes Karen, “You lucky kid, you! I couldn’t run any faster, you were running after me!”

With the same sense of humor and positivity as when they first met, the couple is facing the biggest challenge of their lives together. Bill was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago. Since then he has gone through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation with no progress, including the last session when he tried a new type of treatment. “I got sick for about a week and a half. I mean sick–in bed, and when I finally got up, I was sick for another week after that. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, and then it was time to go back and get another shot. You get them every three weeks,” Bill explained. He and Karen talked with his doctor about discontinuing treatment. “I said as far as I am concerned, it didn’t do me any good except put me right down,” Bill said. “Isn’t this kind of a waste of my time, your time and whoever is paying for this? It cost me $1,500 each time, and that’s with Medicare and private insurance paying, too.”

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After encouragement from his doctor, Bill and Karen enlisted the help of Hospice of the Red River Valley in July 2015. “You take the good with the bad. I’m not going to sit around and mope. That’s kind of silly to me. They have no cure,” Bill shared. Instead, he is focused on living the best life he can with time he has left.

Staying at home with the assistance of Hospice is something Bill feels great about because he can continue to live his life and his Hospice team is just a phone call away. “Hospice is a good thing to have. If we need something, it’s here,” Bill said. “They [Hospice] actually do make it better, I have to admit. They give you a sense of confidence. While you’re here, they make you as comfortable as they possibly can. As far as I’m concerned, they are doing one heck of a job.”

Bill and Karen_pull quote_1Bill is especially fond of his hospice nurse, Kelcie, and social worker Robyn. Both make regular visits to see him. “They are just like family. That’s the only way I can explain it. They really are. If I need supplies, they bring everything I am supposed to have,” he explained. Bill jokes that he also gives Kelcie and Robyn a few pointers in their jobs because he is “quite a bit older than them.”

“Kelcie is great. With the medicine, you don’t worry about anything, and it sure cuts down on the expense. She checks on them every time she comes,” Karen said. “She has provided a lot of relief in just knowing everything is getting taken care of. Just to know that everyone is so helpful and friendly, that helps a lot,” Karen added. Kelcie also found out that the couple enjoys playing games, and right before Christmas she visited the pair with a surprise in-hand. “I’ll be darned if she didn’t come in with a game of Jenga,” Bill said with excitement. Karen notes with a giggle that Bill did not win Jenga when he played Kelcie, for the record.

“Bill and Karen have hearts of gold. It’s enjoyable to visit Bill because even if he is not feeling well, he makes jokes and asks how your day is going. At the same time, he is honest about his symptoms,” Kelcie shared. “Karen wanted to be able to keep Bill at home, and she does a fantastic job helping him and keeping track of his medications. It is nice to be able to help so Bill can continue to enjoy life and stay positive.”

Bill K._1The connection Bill has formed with Robyn is one built on trust and honesty. “Because I know Robyn and Kelcie talk, I asked Robyn one day when she was here, in her opinion, ‘How long do you think I got?’ I said I knew she couldn’t tell me a day or a month. She told me, ‘If you’re planning anything big this summer, do it by June. By August, you won’t be able to.’ I thought that was so honest; I liked that. She was honest with me, and that’s what I like. That’s what I wanted to hear. I mean I could live another three years, but she gave me what I wanted to know,” Bill explained.

Knowing this, Bill has spent the past several months making arrangements so Karen is taken care of after he is no longer here. “I made sure all of the bills are paid off so when I go, she’ll owe nobody nothing, and I finally talked her into getting a new car,” he said. He also made sure she is able to stay in the apartment they now share. “Actually, now I’m happy,” Bill said.

“From the first time I met Bill and Karen, I promised that I would always be up front with them. I also promised the end would not always be the focus of all our conversations. I enjoy my visits with them,” Robyn said.

Bill points out that he cannot identify just one thing he appreciates about hospice care, rather it’s everything about the care. “You can’t pick out one thing. You really truthfully can’t, at least I can’t. Everything I’ve experienced since I’ve been in it is great. There’s no way I’d have a complaint, and I’d argue with anybody who did,” Bill shared.

Bill and Karen_pull quote_2Karen wholeheartedly agrees with Bill. “It’s [Hospice] is the best thing that ever happen to us. Emotionally, financially, everything. Hospice is a Godsend,” she said. “That’s a nice way of putting it, actually,” Bill echoed. Initially, both Karen and Bill thought hospice was only for the last days of life. “I thought you started hospice when there was no hope of anything. That’s definitely not true,” Karen said. “We didn’t realize how completely extensive the services were that Hospice offers, including the 13 months of after-death support. Hospice makes the last months or years of your life much better. It’s a super organization.”

As the days go by, Bill enjoys many of the things he always has, like trips to Sandy’s Donuts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and visits to his granddaughter’s lake cabin near Perham. “I tell Robyn when we go to the lake for a weekend, that way she calls the [Hospice] team down there to let them know I’m in the area in case something would happen,” he said. The couple has also planned a large family gathering in June of this year with 60-plus friends and relatives planning to come, including their five children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. While they await the summer months, they spend each day appreciating each other and the love they share. “We’re lucky to have each other,” Bill said with a big smile.

 

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Generations of Care: Hospice Enables Family to Spend Valuable Time Together at the End of Life

Hospice care is unique in that it provides comfort, relieves pain and offers support to people with a terminal illness and those who care for them. With hospice, the miracle isn’t the cure… it is in the caring. And hospice workers, patients and families see miracles play out on a daily basis.

Roger Greenley
Roger Greenley

When Roger Greenley’s mother Marjorie was living with dementia in the nursing home, it was unusual for her to interact with people whom she wasn’t familiar. But according to Roger, something special happened when Hospice of the Red River Valley’s Chaplain Tom made a visit, “I said, ‘Don’t be offended if she doesn’t talk with you.’ He came in, he brought his guitar, and he started asking her if she wanted to sing with him. She started singing, and they did ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and totally surprised me and brought things out of my mother that we hadn’t heard in a long time.” Roger said that his mother smiled during the visit – something she hadn’t done for weeks. “I saw what I thought was a miracle when Pastor Tom came to her room.”

The visit with Pastor Tom—and other visits from hospice staff and volunteers—solidified Roger’s belief in the power of hospice care. “I saw the happiness that my mother experienced with the visits,” he said. “You can be lonely at that point in life, and just to have familiar people come see her every week … those visits were very important to her, and it was always a day brightener for her to have a visit from hospice.” His mother’s health even improved while she was under the care of Hospice—so much so that she was discharged from hospice care for a period of time. “We were able to have our mother in our lives for many, many more months with the help of Hospice.” His mother passed away under the care of Hospice of the Red River Valley in 2011, and Roger believes her end-of-life experience was made significantly better by Hospice.

But Roger’s Hospice story doesn’t end—or even begin—with his mother’s experience. His father Alfred was cared for by Hospice in 2000, as was his daughter Nicole in 2011. Roger’s father received hospice care in his own home, his mother received care in an assisted living facility, and his daughter received hospice care in the hospital. “We have experienced it [hospice care] three times in my life … it’s just such a wonderful opportunity to have Hospice available.”

After suffering two heart attacks, Roger’s father was admitted to Hospice in 2000. The care team checked in often with Alfred and Marjorie at their home during the six months Alfred was under their care, helping with medication, medical needs and companionship visits. “Having a friendly face come visit you, I know he looked forward to that every week,” Roger said. Being able to remain in his own home was very important to Alfred. “Without the help of hospice, my father would’ve had to go into a nursing home for help,” Roger shared. “He was able to stay at home with the aid of my mother and the aid of hospice workers, so that made a much better life for him. There’s no question he wanted to be home, and Hospice made that possible.”

Marjorie and Nicole
Marjorie and Nicole

Nicole, Roger’s daughter, was diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer at the age of 26. According to Roger, the disease seldom attacks someone so young and is generally a fatal diagnosis. She required physically demanding care around the clock. Roger and his family were given the choice to take her home or to keep her in the hospital. “We would’ve loved to have her home,” Roger said, “but it was better for her to be in the hospital environment.”

The family was able to spend time together, sharing memories and having important conversations. Hospice volunteers and employees, whom Roger calls “angels,” took care of Nicole’s physical needs during the last two weeks of her life. “That’s an incredibly demanding job, and it’s emotionally stressful,” Roger said. “We were spared that. Her doctor at one point had said, ‘These are golden times,’ and we got to do that. We were able to be a family together with the help of Hospice.”

Hospice also supported Roger and his family as they dealt with the grief that accompanies a loss. They received visits from a bereavement specialist each week for a year after his daughter’s death. “It was surprising the help she gave us,” Roger said. “You might think that somebody wouldn’t be able to understand how you’re feeling. She did a phenomenal job. It helped us through a great deal.”

Despite the losses he has encountered, Roger feels fortunate to have experienced so much of the care that Hospice offers to patients and families, and he wants to make sure other families have the same opportunity. “I’ll tell people about Hospice and the things that they can do and make sure they are aware,” Roger said. “The people from Hospice are the most caring, loving people. When you have received hospice care, you just want to tell everybody about what a wonderful experience Hospice made for your family.”

 

 

Kindness and Compassion Personified: Why I Support Hospice

I wish you could have known my wife, Marcia. She was brilliant—a perfect wife and mother of four.

We met as children when I pushed her in a snowbank. Years later, Marcia waited for me while I spent two years overseas with the military, and we eventually married when I returned. For 54 years, we did everything together. When Marcia’s health deteriorated from probable Alzheimer’s, I spent nine hours a day in the nursing home, making sure my beloved wife got the care she deserved.YEA_Blog_2

Marcia passed away on November 12, 2014 under the care of Hospice of the Red River Valley. I miss her so much, but I have peace too because Hospice staff cared for her like they loved her and had known her like family.

During Marcia’s final days, one certified nursing assistant in particular, Miranda, showed me real kindness and compassion. Miranda had been helping Marcia eat, but in her last week my wife couldn’t even swallow. One day when Miranda arrived I told her Marcia wasn’t eating anymore so she didn’t need to visit again. Miranda asked, “Do you mind if I go see her anyway?” I said sure, although I didn’t understand what for. I was gone for a few minutes, and when I came back I found Miranda had lowered the bed and was sitting crossed legged on the floor in front of Marcia. Though Marcia could no longer speak, Miranda was carrying on a conversation as if Marcia could participate, and applying lotion to her legs and feet—pampering her. Marcia had a peaceful, content smile on her face. She could still understand love and when someone really cared for her. I stood in the doorway watching, stunned. Miranda could have just left. Yet there she was, treating my wife with such tenderness, like it was her own mother.

Miranda was not the only Hospice employee who amazed me. Even in the months since Marcia’s passing, I find blessings in Hospice through Bereavement Specialists Wendy and Cheryl. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers grief support groups, classes and one-on-one meetings with bereavement specialists for free, and I haven’t missed a meeting since Marcia passed. I leave feeling good after every one. Their sincerity and the way they treat me is so reassuring and comforting.Tom Horan

When we signed up for Hospice care, for the first time in years, I was able to just be Marcia’s husband again, not her health care worker. Hospice provided Marcia and me such reassurance and peace. The informational booklets they provided where so timely and helpful, it’s like they were written just for us. I’m not sure how I would have made it through those days without their care. Hospice was as much for me as it was for Marcia.

Hospice of the Red River Valley cared for us as if we were their only priority, but I know they care for many people. And they need our support so more families can experience their profound comfort. I give to Hospice of the Red River Valley in memory of Marcia and in honor of the Hospice staff members who touched our lives with such love and tenderness. Please join me and make your gift to Hospice of the Red River Valley, too.

Sincerely,

Tom Horan

 

 

Family Ties: Daughter Forms Close-knit Bond with Father Through Use of Hospice Care

Growing up on a farm in rural North Dakota as one of six children, Lori Goering pitched in to help wherever she could. As one of only two daughters in the family, Lori often found herself tackling household chores like cooking and cleaning while her four brothers tended to the fields, cattle and horses alongside her father, Robert.

Given the many hours Lori’s brothers spent with their dad they naturally forged a close relationship with him as they grew. It wasn’t until much later in life that Lori truly bonded with her dad while she cared for him as he neared the end of his life.

Lori Goering and Robert
Lori with her father, Robert

In January 2014, Robert became quite ill leading to multiple stays in the hospital, several blood transfusions and eventually the discovery of a rare form of cancer. Because of Robert’s age, 82, and where the cancer was positioned—in between the small and large intestines—Robert’s doctor believed that surgery and other treatments would most likely be unsuccessful.

So as a family, Robert, his children and his wife gathered and discussed next steps. “We talked to him about quality of life instead of quantity,” Lori said. Robert’s cancer was terminal, and after the conversation with his family, he decided he would spend his final weeks at home, comfortable. He would have preferred to go to his home near Osnabrock/Langdon area in his last days, but he was too weak to make the trip back home.

“The doctor suggested calling in Hospice,” Lori explained. “Dad made the decision to stay with me and my husband at our home in Fargo. We had the space, and he loved being here with us. I think that was God’s way of saying, this is your time with your dad.” It was an easy decision for Robert to choose to stay with Lori, especially since Hospice was so readily available in Fargo. This also gave Robert the opportunity to spend precious time with his wife, children, grandchildren, siblings and extended family and friends.

Robert was discharged from the hospital and started hospice care in March 2014. “Hospice reacted so quickly when we finally made the decision to begin hospice care. From the time of the hospital discharge to our house was about three hours, and in that time Hospice had already been here and had all the equipment ready to go,” Lori said. “And then they came back the next day to see if there were any additional supplies we needed.” When a decision is made to begin hospice care, immediately that time and those hours become precious.

Robert

For Lori and her family, it was a relief to be able to keep her dad out of the hospital and instead stay home where they could truly make the most of the time they had left with him. “Having Hospice here was wonderful because everything seemed so comfortable. My family and I understood how lucky we were to have Hospice and to spend that time with dad,” she shared. “Dad was kept comfortable the whole time.”

In addition to managing Robert’s pain and symptoms, the personal cares provided by Hospice of the Red River Valley CNA, Jerry, and the support of registered nurses like Jay, were much appreciated by Lori and her family. “We had someone come in almost every day to bathe dad. Just to have someone else come in and get him washed up every day, to kind of give me a break, was super,” Lori said. “Dad absolutely loved Jerry; he was awesome.”

On Robert’s third night under the care of Hospice, he was so weak that it was hard to get him up and to the bathroom, especially the multiple times he needed to go. During one such trip to the bathroom, Lori could feel her dad losing his footing. Unable to hold him up herself, she gently laid him on the floor instead of risking a fall. Lori immediately called Hospice of the Red River Valley Registered Nurse Jay for assistance. When Jay arrived, he was able to help Robert to his feet. “I was so thankful Jay was able to come during the middle of the night.”

Lori was familiar with many of the services Hospice offered because her husband’s family had experienced hospice care many years earlier. But one aspect of hospice she didn’t anticipate was the support for caregivers like her. “There was one day, a Hospice staff member wanted to sit and talk with me specifically. She wanted to know if I had concerns when the time came and dad did die. I had thought about it, but I hadn’t shared it with anybody,” Lori shared. “She really put my mind at ease by helping me understand what I could expect. She even told me how he would act the closer he got to that time. That was good for me because when he did start acting a certain way, I had been forewarned.”

Robert_lutefisk
Robert enjoying lutefisk

The two short weeks Robert received hospice care were especially precious to Lori because with each act of love she showed her dad—personal cares, dinners, so on—her relationship with her sweet, funny and loving father grew stronger. “I feel like I learned a lot about how to care for my dad from Hospice,” Lori explained.

Even her emotional connection with her father grew through sharing past memories like the shenanigans the kids got into on the farm, and relishing new moments together, including enjoying Robert’s favorite meal—a traditional Nordic dish, lutefisk. “There was a lot of visiting done when he was here. We had a lot of food. He came up with the funniest stories, and we laughed a lot,” Lori shared with a smile. “I also learned how strong he really was and that he wasn’t afraid to die.”

“Hospice is not scary at all. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about hospice care. You think when you call in Hospice you are at the end, that’s it,” she said. “That was one thing I learned from Hospice staff, if dad would have gotten better, he could have went off of Hospice. Hospice isn’t a death sentence.”

Robert always loved people so sharing his final weeks with loved ones and visitors was the perfect ending to his life story. “We had so much company. To have people coming to see him and doting on him, he was basically in heaven. He said his goodbyes to everyone, and those who weren’t here, he wanted to call. He was still cognitively ‘there,’ and he knew what was happening. He was at peace with everything,” Lori remembered.

Lori Goering_quote_story

“I feel so blessed and privileged to have been able to care for my dad. Hospice truly is a wonderful organization that has so much compassion and caring and wonderful people! To have Hospice in such a sensitive time of one’s life is truly a blessing,” she said. “They were such a help. There was always follow up, which was awesome. We were all thankful that dad led a very good life. This experience taught us all a lot about life, humanity and love.”

Caring for the Caregiver: Hospice Care Helps Wife Fulfill Vows to Husband

“For better or for worse, in sickness and in health …”

This familiar verse, a promise made in many wedding vows, Sherry faithfully puts into practice each and every day as she cares for her terminally ill husband. For Sherry, and countless other family caregivers like her, these words are particularly poignant. For 12 years, she has walked alongside her husband, Russ, and his mysterious terminal illness. With help from Hospice of the Red River Valley, she can deliver on her promise.

In February of 2004, at age 44, Russ suffered a severe seizure and was in a coma for three days. From that point on, his health quickly deteriorated. Throughout the next few years, he would experience more seizures which would eventually rob him of mobility, dexterity, thought process and balance.

“His doctors call it a progressive neurodegenerative disorder,” Sherry explained. “It’s really a blanket-term for a brain disorder. They don’t even know what to call it.” Russ’ condition causes brain shrinkage, seizures and muscle deterioration. “They told us at the Mayo Clinic, we only know 50 percent about the brain. His condition is very rare.” she said. “Russ has outlived all of what they know about his condition.”

Russ_Derrick_Kim
Russ and his son, Derrick, and daughter-in-law Kim

For the first six years of the illness, Sherry cared for Russ in their home. Living on a farm in rural Minnesota, she struggled to find health care resources to help with his every day care. “I had so much trouble,” Sherry recalled. “Our son was living at our house, taking care of him during the day. I’d come home at lunch and take care of him at night. I was exhausted and overwhelmed.” Sherry’s doctor recognized the personal toll caregiving was taking on her and suggested Russ be evaluated for hospice care.

Rather than fearing hospice, Sherry welcomed hospice care with open arms. “When we first called Hospice, he had already been sick five years. I was wore out,” Sherry explained. “When they came daily, it was a relief for me. They [Hospice staff] made sure he was bathed. They came around lunch time and would feed him. Every time there was an emergency, I didn’t have to call for an ambulance, because hospice came instead.”

Hospice cared for Russ at their home for almost a year. All the while, Russ continued to steadily decline and went from using a walker, to a wheelchair, to a hospital bed in the living room. When Sherry couldn’t continue to care for Russ at home any longer, Hospice helped her transition Russ to a nursing home.

Being cared for by Hospice has been added relief for Sherry and a benefit for Russ, who has now experienced hospice care far longer than the average person. A member of Hospice’s medical team must regularly visit Russ to re-certify that he still meets the medical guidelines for care.

Russ W_pull quote_With the luxury of time, Russ has developed quite the relationship with Hospice staff members, particularly Sue and Suz, his Certified Nursing Assistants. He depends on them and looks forward to their visits. “They care about him and it shows in how they care for him.” Sherry acknowledged.

“They’re so sincere and remember the little details. They share their personal interests and have developed a relationship with Russ.” Both Sherry and Russ appreciate the extra effort hospice staff members take to get to know him.

“It has been both a privilege and an honor to be given the opportunity to assist with caring for Russ,” Suz shared. “From the first day I met Russ at his home till the present, we have had an amazing caregiver-patient relationship. Sometimes the staff at the facility accuse us of having too much fun! I have enjoyed getting to know Sherry and Russ. The love they share for each other is amazing; Sherry will do everything in her power to keep Russ comfortable and happy at the facility.”

With the uncertainties and unknowns of Russ’ illness, occasionally people question Sherry about hospice care. “People say, how can Russ be on hospice when he’s not in the eleventh hour and dying? And that’s not how it is. He’s terminal, so I don’t know how to answer that question. I just know we need it. I know he needs it. I know I need it,” she said.

In addition to providing for Russ’ medical, emotional and spiritual needs, Sherry quickly realized Hospice could support her, too.

“I’m still working fulltime; hospice is a big relief for me. They took a big chunk off of me, and I had them to lean on. Hospice made it easier for me to figure this out.” Sherry said. “I’ve had meltdowns, and they’re right there to help me. They tell me when I need to take a break. They’re encouraging and make sure I’m taking care of myself. They [Hospice staff] fill in a necessary gap for me. I never hesitate to call them.”

Recently, Russ experienced an episode where he was unresponsive. “The hospice nurse came in and talked to me about what to look for, what to expect.” Sherry remembered. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. She actually went into detail about what his breathing would sound like, and other signs to look for, and what each sign meant, and the time he might have left. If you have a loved one who’s dying, you have to have Hospice. With Hospice, you have someone go through it with you.”

Russ_Dream Foundation
Russ receives a grant from the Dream Foundation.

Sherry believes Hospice staff members go way out of their way for Russ. She looks to a recent example as proof: Russ’ social worker, Deb, devised a plan to grant one of Russ’ wishes through the Dream Foundation, a national dream granting organization for adults who are terminally ill. At first, Deb and Sherry thought about applying for a grant so Russ could meet a Minnesota Viking, his beloved football team. But after talking with Russ, they discovered his wish was much simpler—he just wanted to see his son. Russ is bedridden and can’t travel, so together Deb and Sherry applied for a grant through the Dream Foundation to fly Russ’ son and wife home from California to visit.

Russ_Dream Foundation_2
A representative from the Veterans Administration awards Russ with a Dream Foundation grant.

“They are close. Very, very close. I’ve never seen a kid so bonded with his dad.” Sherry shared. “It’s been two years since they’ve been able to visit; Russ is so excited and has been looking forward to it. The whole family will get together. It will be very simple and just awesome.”

Russ remains under hospice care even though his deterioration has slowed.

“Medications change and doses change, but Russ’ spirit to live does not. I am very thankful to Hospice of the Red River Valley for all they have done and continue to do,” Sherry shared.

Russ W_pull quote_2For 12 of Sherry and Russ’ nearly 20 years of marriage, Russ has been sick. It is seasons of life such as these when true commitment and devotion are tested. Sherry’s dedication to Russ is a picture of lasting love—love that is a conscience, day-to-day decision, regardless of what the future may hold.

“Hospice has been a miracle to me,” Sherry said. “I can’t say enough. Russ is a 22-year veteran of the Navy, and is very, very proud of that. When this all started, he had no control, and he was always upset. Hospice brings him dignity. They made it comfortable for him in ways I can’t even explain. I will always, always be grateful.”

Editor’s note: Russ passed away peacefully on August 15, 2015.