October 8, 2013
I'm 30 years old, but writing this in autumn, I feel so much older than I did in the spring. I wrote a few months ago that my mother was sick. July saw her getting worse, and on the first day of August, she moved into Hospicare, a hospice facility in my hometown. She passed away in early September.
Hospicare is really an incredible place. It only has six beds, which means that with a nurse and an aide available at all times, the level of care is incredible. As with all good hospice care facilities, it focuses on the quality of life for the person dying, taking care to make his or her final weeks and days as pain- and anxiety-free as possible. It's also beautiful, with extensive grounds and gardens. There's an enormous kitchen, so families can come in and fix their own meals while they visit loved ones, and there are no set visiting hours, so people who want to stay with friends and family full time are able to do so.
There is no good way to watch your parent die. There is nothing that makes it comfortable or easy. But hospice care is better than most alternatives, and Hospicare in particular was incredible -- for Mom, and for us. And not just for the reasons I already listed. There was one other, major piece for us: Mom chose Hospicare.
In fact, Mom didn't just choose it. As a nurse herself, end-of-life care was her personal passion. She had actually worked at Hospicare for several years. She loved it there, and she knew firsthand what kind of care and kindness the residents received. When she decided to stop her chemo, Mom told us that was where she wanted to spend her final days. When she needed more care than our family could provide at home, she said it was time. Thankfully, within two days of making that decision, they had an open bed.
Like I said: There is no good way to watch your parent -- or friend, or loved one -- pass away. But it was an incredible comfort to know that Mom had been fully informed about her end-of-life options, that she chose Hospicare. We supported her decision, and when she passed away, it was in a beautiful place that she loved very much.
As you would probably expect, this brought up a lot of conversation with my father, too. I now know where he stands on end-of-life questions, not that he's planning on going anywhere for a while yet. (Except on a cross-country road trip next summer. He's only 78 years old; why not?) I can't say it's a fun conversation to have, but hey, awkward conversations are my specialty. And it's better to know.
Life expectancy is ever-increasing for people living with HIV, so this is not something I write about here as an HIV issue. It's a health care issue, and a family issue. A being human issue. Deciding what you want now can provide comfort later on, so I ask: Do you know what you want for your end-of-life experience?
Becky Allen is the site director for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Becky on Twitter: @allreb.