Honoring Hospice, Honoring Papa

Writer Kristy Stevenson wrote this guest post in honor of the gift that hospice is to our community, and in honor of her Papa, Lloyd, on the occasion of the 10th Annual Big Bad Ball.

Lloyd was an avid golfer, Cessna pilot, and card shark.  Beloved by family and friends, he was often the life of every party.  But to me, he was just “Papa.”

He was the eldest of five brothers and sisters, living through the Great Depression and taking various jobs to help support the family.  Lloyd was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and served in the US Navy during WWII.  He volunteered on the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i’s of Brookfield, WI for many years and was a mentor for Junior Achievement.  An industrial engineer, Lloyd worked for the Square D Company for 38 years and relocated to Raleigh, NC in 1972 to help open their Knightdale plant.  Together, he and Margaret were also sales leaders in the Shaklee Corporation.

As the years went by, Lloyd slowed down. He suffered from Alzheimer’s complicated by congestive heart failure – a relentless combination that took him from us bit by bit.  Gone was his quick wit and devilish sense of humor, along with recognition of many formerly familiar things.  His body was failing, his mood could change with the wind, and he often seemed lost and despondent.  This was not the Papa we knew.  This was not the Papa we wanted people to remember.  Only Duke Hospice understood that.

Gram with Papa

At a critical point in Lloyd’s illness, he and my grandmother found themselves forced to move. Margaret notified Hospice and explained their situation. Hospice immediately arranged for a hospital bed to be delivered to their new address as well as having someone available to help move Papa in his fragile state.

“The real angel was Terri Stewart,” said Margaret. “She bathed Lloyd and made up the new bed – making the stress of moving easier and my husband so much more comfortable.” At 90, Margaret became Lloyd’s main caregiver and so appreciated Terri’s visits.  “When she would come to the house to care for him, she would order supplies to keep him  comfortable – anything we needed.  Lloyd loved her; that really helped a lot,” recalls Margaret. “She was very patient and loving with him and always had a smile on her face.  At our age, we’ve spent more time than we’d like to admit with doctors and in hospitals … and unlike others, these gals were never grumpy or in a hurry.”

Volunteer Brenda VanBenschoten stayed with Lloyd so that Margaret could take a break and collect some groceries. “She would always tell me not to rush and stay longer if I needed to,” said Margaret.  “She’d cut my husband’s hair, helping him maintain his dignity during a time when he had little control over anything.”

At a time when caring for our loved one began to seem overwhelming, Hospice workers came and went from the house without missing a beat. They came in, got things done, and were careful to respect not only the patient in his current state, but the person he used to be. They saw him as an individual who had shared a full life marked by the hearts he touched and laughs he shared.

For a brief time, Lloyd seemed to plateau and glimpses of his sense of humor returned. He was sitting up in bed when I saw him Wednesday afternoon. But by Friday morning, he could no longer suck from a straw and his mouth had to be swabbed with a sponge. I was taken aback by his visage and stood motionless in the bedroom doorway. At my grandmother’s request, I went to get a damp washcloth to wipe his face and cool his hands. Afterwards, I excused myself to the kitchen.  I was shocked at how he had deteriorated in the short time since I’d last seen him. A rush of tears suddenly engulfed me and it was hard to breathe.  The Hospice nurse remained calm and hugged me tight. She assured me that everything Papa was going through was completely normal and just the end stages of his life. It was comforting to rely on someone who had been through all of this before, and to be assured that he was not in any pain.

“I told Terri how particular my husband always was about how he looked,” said Margaret. “All his life, it was important to him to be clean and well groomed. After his passing, Terri called the house to express her condolences and share how happy she was to have given Lloyd a bath and a fresh change of clothes just before his death so that he was clean for the next world.”

Lloyd was 92 when he died at his Raleigh home in 2008. His obituary simply said he passed away after a long illness. But family members and Hospice know the suffering of Alzheimer’s patients – and how they are taken from us long before their actual death.

Lloyd was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend … and Hospice helped us recall the fullness of his life rather than the dwindling of it.

Kristy Stevenson is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can read and subscribe to her blog, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page to keep up with her. Let her know what you liked about this guest post by leaving a comment.

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