by: Maria Lorensen Development director for Hospice of the Panhandle
My Aunt Rose provided my first introduction to Hospice care.
She was the aunt who took care of me (I hesitate to use the word ‘babysit’ because we sure didn’t do a lot of sitting) when I was a young child.
From the get-go, when my mom returned to work but before I started kindergarten, Aunt Rose and I traveled together in her green Rambler, visiting sick and infirmed family members, church friends, community friends. We visited, we talked, we delivered food (so we were kind of Meals on Wheels, too), we moved to the next home. She often would cook in the morning, and we’d begin our trek that was usually within about a 10-mile radius, before lunch so the shut-ins could get their main meal at lunchtime.
She was a gem. Well loved by all, she was a no-nonsense cook (a trait I failed to pick up; I blame that on being too young), and a great listener. We would hear stories of by-gone times, learning how children of mostly Eastern European immigrants reminisced about getting to this country, living during the Depression, making due with less but still appreciating being in this country.
As folks aged, and generally became more ill, they would often pass away. My mother used to tell a story that Aunt Rose and I apparently shared one day when Mom was picking me up after she had finished work. Mom had asked what we had done on that particular day. I responded that we went to a person’s ‘bedroom’ and saw a lady dressed in a very pretty white nightgown who was in a beautiful bed with satin all around it. It looked like a box. The lady was ‘asleep’ but surrounded by very pretty flowers. People all around her seemed very sad that she was asleep. My mother looked quizzingly at Aunt Rose who said, “It was fine. Maria was fine. We went to see Mrs. Smith, who was ‘laid out’ at the funeral home.”
It was all perfectly normal.
Aunt Rose had no children of her own. She and Uncle Herman lived one street away from my parents’ home. She was very close to her parents – she was the primary caregiver of my grandfather (who lived next to us) after Grandma died. Despite the fact that he didn’t need a caregiver, really up until he died at 96 years old. And she was close to her brothers and sisters (hence, her willingness to ‘watch me.’)
Aunt Rose also had heart disease. She didn’t talk about it much; my dad’s four sisters and one brother were all taught to be “silent sufferers.” Plus, you could certainly not tell by looking at her that she was ill, and I know she had heart disease for decades. She was trim and fit, she ate healthy meals and she mowed her half-acre lawn that was full of hills with a push mower – on the hottest and most humid of days. And then she trimmed around sidewalks, steps. And cared for all the flowers she had planted seasonally and a vegetable garden. She mowed other people’s lawns when they needed help. She was a go-getter, a real Energizer bunny.
Her little gift to herself (her bit of cheating-on a heart-healthy lifestyle) after a hot afternoon of mowing was a pony-sized Rolling Rock beer.
But as she aged, she slowed down. And I remember in the final years, when I was grown, her many trips to the hospital where she absolutely DID NOT want visitors.
“Why would I want anyone to see me there? And why would I want to see them?” she’d say after she returned home. Sometimes, we didn’t even know she had been hospitalized. She was a private person.
And on the final ‘almost’ hospital stay, I remember getting the phone call from my father, truly shaken, who called from her house, saying they had called the ambulance, but she didn’t make it to the hospital.
I like to think that a program like Hospice of the Panhandle’s “Helping Hearts” would have appealed to her. She could have perhaps had her chest pain controlled, her shortness of breath managed during those last months. And most of all, she wouldn’t have had to have had all those hospital stays, where she wanted absolutely no visitors.
In February, National Heart Month, Hospice of the Panhandle is putting a renewed focus on “Helping Hearts.” Heart disease has long been a leading cause of death in West Virginia. We believe that so many more community members can be helped through the program – get their symptoms managed, and importantly stay at home and not make frequent trips to the hospital. Patients and families also create, with staff, an “emergency plan” so they know what to do if the patient’s symptoms do get unmanaged.
Do you or does someone you love have heart disease? Are you interested in learning more about Hospice of the Panhandle’s “Helping Hearts” program? Call (304) 264-0406 to find out more.
Maria Lorensen is the development director for Hospice of the Panhandle, where she has worked for nearly 15 years.