Hospice Austin’s Blog
After losing my husband to cancer, I didn’t find much to feel grateful about. He had died way too early – we were supposed to grow old together. With catastrophic loss, of course, comes catastrophic grief. I felt cleaved in two, invisibly hemorrhaging pain, fear, anger, the future we’d planned. I was suddenly a single mother of an eighth grader. I was having to navigate my own grief as well as trying to shepherd my daughter through hers.
Having re-retired after teaching English for a year at a local high school, I am trying to fill my time with activities that keep me busy, healthy, and productive. One of those things is a return to volunteering at a hospice, working with the sick, the dying, and their loved ones.
I had spent a couple of years volunteering to go to people’s houses, but it was frustrating to show up and be told that I wouldn’t be needed that day. So I signed up to work at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, where there is always somebody there. As it happened, my first mother-in-law’s life ended there in 1999, and it was a dignified and relatively comfortable passing. She is memorialized on a brick in the courtyard. I often look at her name as I enter the building.
COVID and my return to teaching kept me away for a few years, but the volunteer coordinator was still there. So was my name tag.
Hospice Austin recently lost two beloved employees, Maintenance Coordinator Mark Roeder, and Certified Nurse Assistant Jack Harrison. They both died unexpectedly, leaving the rest of us – usually so accustomed to death – feeling unmoored. Mark was with us a little...
St. David’s Foundation commissioned a statewide survey to better understand Texans’ experiences, end-of-life priorities, and barriers around end-of-life care. The study found that most Texans share end-of-life preferences, such as wanting to die at home and avoiding the financial burden of care. However, most Texans, including older adults and those with a serious illness, are unprepared for decisions around end-of life care. Just one-third said their loved one’s end-of-life went the way they wanted it to go and Black and Latino respondents report more challenges related to end-of life care. Loved ones whose deaths went the way they wanted were twice as likely to have died at home and twice as likely to have been receiving hospice care.
This summer was my 26th time attending Camp Braveheart. Over the years I’ve played many roles: director, small group facilitator, floater, trouble shooter, home-sickness whisperer. Every year there is a moment at camp that pulls my heart so wide open I can barely breathe. Often this comes during the closing ceremony when all the handmade memory boxes are lined up side by side, one after the other, with words like mom, dad, grandma, nana, papa, baby brother, big sister hand painted or spelled out with magazine letters across the top. Words that contain worlds. As the campers pass by their box, they place a small battery-operated candle on top or inside their memory box; a small gesture filled with such longing and love. My hope for this procession of grieving children is that they will be able to navigate the disorienting journey through the valley of loss and safely find their way to the other side where they may encounter a new kind of wholeness that includes what is broken; where they may discover a wiser, more mature sense of what it means to be human in this beautiful, fragile world we live in.
Supporting a family member, friend, or client with a serious illness can be a daunting, painful, brutal, unrewarding task for anyone. It can also be one of the most connective, loving, engaging, and life-changing opportunities a person can experience. The difference often lies in the eyes and experience of the beholder. In other words, we each shape the way we respond to illness and how we deal with it.
When Matt Weiss had a heart attack, he didn’t even know it. He was in his 40s, in great shape, worked out every day, rarely even ate fast food. He didn’t go to the doctor, because he didn’t have insurance. A couple of months later, his feet – and shortly later his entire body – swelled up badly with edema. He did see a doctor then, who told him to go straight to the hospital. Only 10% of his heart was working.
Marion Vise, who has volunteered with Hospice Austin for 40 years, recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas & New Mexico Hospice Organization. Marion began volunteering for Hospice Austin in 1983, just two years after Hospice Austin served its first patient. Marion Vise has literally done it all at Hospice Austin. In the early years, she was one of the small group of people who helped get Hospice Austin started. In the years since, she has given her gifts in the area of facilitating bereavement support groups. It’s hard to calculate the thousands of lives she has touched over the past four decades.
When the sun goes down, it gets scary for families of patients on hospice care, according to Hospice Austin On-Call Team Leader Aimee Alexander. Symptoms seem to get worse. People are tired and upset. The on-call staff working nights and weekends have to be prepared for anything, usually a crisis or a death. They are the calvary.
Herb Dyer is transitioning to a role as a strategic planning consultant for our organization while Dana Joslin takes over as Hospice Austin’s Interim Executive Director. Not only does Dana have a wealth of experience in the healthcare industry – serving 25 years as director of clinical and administrative operations with the St. David’s Healthcare system – she also has a long history with this organization. In fact, she’s been involved with Hospice Austin since its inception.