Eula Thomas, left, and her husband, Jay

KEARNEYSVILLE — A soft-spoken but articulate woman who works as a human resource professional, Eula Thomas wants others to know what she’s learned through grief counseling at Hospice of the Panhandle: Families stand to gain so much through hospice services.

Her husband, John (nicknamed Jay), who died in May 2018 at the age of 56, never received Hospice care. But Eula says if she had known then, while she was caring for him, what she knows now, she would never have hesitated.

The couple, married for 19 years, had been together for 24 years. They enjoyed summer vacations, gardening, their beloved beagles, riding motorcycles and most of all spending time with their daughters and family. John had been a building engineer, specializing in HVAC work. He had his own business, but even in his 50s was plagued with a host of illnesses, including diabetes, chronic heart failure and atrial fibrillation. He had had a pacemaker installed. But in 2017, Jay was diagnosed with lung cancer, which precipitated many trips to the hospital during the course of that illness. Eula said that the care received at area hospitals was “wonderful,” but was taxing on them and their family members.

“Had I known then (what was happening), I would have lined up Hospice,” she said. “It is one of my biggest regrets. Somehow, I didn’t know he was going to die.”

Eula says that although her husband’s doctor said it might be time for Hospice after repeated hospitalizations and Jay’s decline, other family members thought calling Hospice was a sign of “giving up.”

“I think that’s the stigma with hospice care,” Eula said. “People seem to think you’ve lost hope once (you sign in). I felt there was always hope.”

In March 2018, Jay, who was 6í4î tall and once weighed 240 pounds, fell and suffered a broken hip. That made caring for him even more difficult. Eula had enlisted the help of home health services but she became more and more tired as a caregiver, even with the help she had.

“I don’t ever regret being home (with him),” she said. “But as a caregiver, you do get tired.”

The home health nurse was with her on the day that Jay died.

“On the morning he died, Jay told me I should always remember that he loved me and would always love me,” Eula said. “On some level, he knew (that he would die soon).”

“I have learned so much through the training,” Eula said. “It allowed me to have a better understanding of what the organization does. If more people understood what hospice does not just for patients, but for families, they’d never hesitate to have loved ones enter the program.”

Her message to other families wondering if it’s time for hospice: “They can do so much for you. You should call. You and your loved one are not giving up.”

Maria Lorensen has been the development director at Hospice of the Panhandle for 10 years. Hospice is a not-for-profit agency that has cared for patients and families with life-limiting illnesses in Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire and Jefferson counties since 1980. For more information on how hospice helps residents of the four-county area live more fully, call (304) 264-0406, or visit on-line at www.hospiceotp.org.