Caring For Dad at the End of His Life
By: Mary Prichard
I became a Hospice home health aide over a decade ago. I started the training with only home care in mind. I went to the homes of clients and helped with everyday activities that we take for granted. Taking a shower. Getting ready for bed or for the day. I couldn’t administer medications but I could assist the client when they were taking them. I did a little housekeeping for them also. I enjoyed it. I made them feel a bit at ease while going through their illnesses in their own homes. It was fun, educational and humbling.
A training class came up for Hospice for any aides interested. I was told it takes a certain kind of person to take these cases and if I couldn’t go through with it, it was understood completely. To me, it didn’t seem much different than a regular health case. We were taught the difference in end of life care and activities of daily living. They were very similar but the condition and mind set of the patients were very different. When they were still alive and functioning, I became a good listener for those who wanted to reminisce and tell stories of their lives. I moved pictures and beloved tchotchkes to where they could see them in their final days. It was peaceful for them and an honor for me.
We were taught what to look for when the patient’s body was giving way to death. Shallow breathing or a snoring like sound was a sign. Reaching for a corner of the room in a semi-conscious state was the person hovering between both worlds. The rapid decrease in weight, movement, food and drink intake were different ways the patient was letting their loved ones know it’s becoming time. I gave the men a fresh shave as it was closer. I bathed both men and women with extra care so they felt fresh even if they couldn’t express it. I put a little lipstick on women if they would have normally worn it. It was my one chance to make them feel good about themselves as they moved on to the next journey.
The most rewarding was to do this for my father. He was put on Hospice just before Easter Sunday. I went to my sister’s home, where he was living a week later to care for him and just enjoy each other’s company. It was actually a pretty nice time, even knowing the ultimate end. We took a ride back to his hometown and drove past all of the places he could remember that he lived when he was a kid. We went to the cemetery to see my mother, his mother and step-father and other relatives who had passed before us. We took a ride to new construction and he could tell me what was there prior. It was 91 years crammed into a two-hour ride. And we both enjoyed every minute of it.
As it got closer to the time, our trips became less frequent. We tried to go out to eat every chance we could as it was one of things he and my mom used to do and then he and I. He hadn’t had a banana split in years so we had one. He couldn’t finish it all but was so happy to taste it one last time. Trips to diners became me cooking at home. One of his favorite meals was cabbage and noodles. He was a kid during the Great Depression so some of the simplest meals were his greatest memories. I told him that I made that once in a while and added kielbasa to it. He wanted to try it. His taste buds weren’t exactly kind to him and it didn’t taste the way he remembered. I felt bad his last meal wasn’t tasty but I do know that it was appreciated. That is a memory I will cherish.
Dad passed while I was out of town to attend a memorial service for my then mother- and father-in-law, who had passed earlier in the year. I think he was waiting for me to leave so he could make his exit. He was looking forward to seeing the love of his life again and wanted that moment to himself.
Thinking back, it was an honor and a pleasure to take care of my father and all of my clients who have ended their earthly journey and moved on to the next one. I was able to make them feel comfortable enough to cross over and feel good about themselves as they did. After doing this for dad, I don’t know that I can do it again. But I do know there are many of others out there like me who enjoy doing this and would be happy to provide the same kind of care again.