Holding Your Hand Until the End - Handel Behavioral Health
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Holding Your Hand Until the End

A Conversation on Hospice Care and Dying with Grace

November 10, 2023

Amy Mauro

“I was much more afraid of death and dying before my first experience with hospice care. The nurses and staff showed us that preparing for someone’s death is also, if not entirely, about living.”

Marie’s family was never the type to express their thoughts and feelings, especially around conversations like death. 

When her oldest brother, Felix, was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer, he knew that he was going to die soon. As difficult as it was for her to accept, Marie knew too.

“My brother and I had an estranged relationship for a long time. As he got sicker none of that mattered anymore. The only thing that mattered was love,” says Marie.

Chemotherapy wasn’t working, and when Felix decided to stop treatment, his doctors suggested hospice care. The family found a hospice facility, about 100 miles out of town. 

“The nurses and staff were there for my brother from day one. They made it a point to get to know Felix. They focused on his quality of life, and how he wanted to spend the time until his death,” says Marie. 

“Most importantly, they were there for my family as much as they were for Felix. I looked forward to those visits from the nurses, because I knew that we were not alone. It was an experience full of blessings and heartache that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” says Marie.

In reflecting on her experience with hospice care, Marie shows us what it means to receive compassionate care, not only for the people facing the final moments of life, but for those who are living.

Finding out the end is near

Learning that my brother was going to die was very difficult for me to accept. We had been estranged from each other for a long time before he got sick. 

When I realized he was going to die soon, there was no other choice than to be in a loving relationship with each other. 

He gave me the power of attorney, which was his way of showing me how much he appreciated and loved me. I basically told him, ‘I’m going to be here for you everyday. You can choose to love me or get over it.’ There was a pull to love each other no matter what. 

The cancer was progressing to a point where the intensive chemotherapy treatment wasn’t working, and the side effects were making life unbearable for him. 

Felix decided to stop treatment, and his doctor suggested we look into hospice care, so we found a hospice care center out of town.

Caring for the dying and the living

The care team brought respect and dignity to the final moments of my brother’s life, from the first day they met him. 

They got to know Felix from the inside-out. They listened to his concerns, and did everything in their power to accommodate how he wanted to spend that time until his death.

Their compassion was felt by all of us.

I looked forward to the nurses visits, the positivity and warmth they brought into our lives really made my brother feel at ease, and my family feel taken care of. 

There were many times when I thought my brother was going to die on my watch. I’d call the hospice team and they’d be there as quickly as they could be, traveling 100 miles. 

One time, as we stood around my brother’s bed after getting him in for the night, one of the nurse’s asked Felix, “Do you mind if I pray for you?”

We all held hands around his bed, while the nurse said the most beautiful and personal prayer for Felix, as if she’d known him forever.

Focusing on life and cherishing time together until death

Felix and I would lay on his bed together comparing toes, as if we were kids. I’d give him haircuts and polish him up, reminding him of the life he still had left to live. 

I remember asking Felix what he thought about dying. He said he wasn’t afraid of death, and that he was actually eager to see what was on the other side.

The last moments we had together were quiet. He peacefully drifted away in his sleep, and my prayer was answered.

Taking hospice into the next phase of life

I think about what life and death would look like without hospice holding our hands throughout. 

I think about all of the people who are terrified of dying, and the people who are left carrying the pain and grief alone. I’ve decided that I want to go into hospice care. 

I’ve been a substance use counselor for many years. I’ve worked with people who wanted to die, who attempted to die, and those who came back to life from addiction. 

I’ve learned that substance use counseling is really about life: teaching people how to live a full life without their substance of choice. 

In a similar sense, hospice care gives people, those who are dying and those who are left with the loss, the compassionate care and support that they deserve to enjoy and find meaning in the remaining moments of life.

Counseling for grief and loss

We thank Marie for sharing her lived experience with hospice care, and we hope that Marie’s story will shed light on the positive outcomes of hospice, and what it means to receive compassionate care.

For those who are processing the  loss of a loved one, our trained mental health counselors at HBH Therapy are here to safely support you throughout. Our providers are dedicated to helping you understand, integrate, and heal through your experiences of grief and loss

To start your journey with one of our clinicians in our offices in Amherst, West Springfield, Wilbraham, and Franklin, or online throughout the state of Massachusetts, please contact us today at (413) 343-4357.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.