What a Hospice Facility Taught Me About Living Well

hospice facility dove

This is how my mom, who has Alzheimer’s, ended up in an inpatient hospice facility.

Mom has always been a feisty, independent, and stubborn woman. In many cases those are positive traits. But sometimes the inability to let others help can cause havoc and pain.

That’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago.

Mom fell in her bathroom and fractured her hip while trying to change her clothes. Although my sister had offered to help, my mom refused assistance. 

The fall caused excruciating pain. Mom was rushed to a trauma center, and twenty hours later she was on an operating table.

Five days later, Mom became bedridden with blood clots in both legs.  

I flew to Florida, and visited Mom in the “house of death.” It’s a macabre characterization, but many patients go to an inpatient hospice facility to die. End-of-life means comfort care as loved ones transition to another place.

Walking the hospice facility halls, and peeking into dimly lit rooms where patients lay sleeping, forced me to make peace with death. When a loved one died, a white dove appeared outside their closed door. The white dove symbolized “the significant transition from physical life to death and spiritual rebirth.”

Being surrounded by sadness and death forced me to dig deep. What could this experience tell me about living a good life? 

Here’s where I netted out. Interestingly, my reflections on life look like a page out of the Blue Zones:

Gratitude

Simple pleasures took on a whole new meaning. Getting out of bed to start a new day. Watching the sun cast its rays inside a room. Enjoying a good meal with friends or family. Laughing at a funny joke. Listening to music. Gratitude focuses on what we have, not what we don’t have or what we’re losing.

Hydration

Even with prodding, Mom no longer drinks enough. In turn, she’s suffering the near-term consequences. Lack of energy. A serious urinary tract infection.

We know that staying hydrated is important. This doesn’t mean drinking gallons of water every day, but rather making sure that we consume enough liquid to keep our organs working properly, and to give us energy for living life. 

Social Connection and Support

Family and loving friends are crucial for providing much-needed support. A good life includes the love and community of those who care about you, who are always there for you in person, or on the phone – in good times and bad. 

More than ever, we need human interaction. My version of a strong social network is the opposite of Mark Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” and his vision for Meta, the new name given to Facebook, Inc. I never want to “live mostly online” in a virtual world. It’s too easy to experience disconnection and social isolation, even with thousands of digital “friends and co-workers.”  

Healthspan not lifespan

Longevity should not be our goal. Who wants to live a long life without good health? I don’t want to live a long life for its own sake. I want to live a healthy life. 

In 2014, a thought-provoking article appeared in The Atlantic titled, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” The author, an oncologist, argues that longevity should not be the goal. He says that poor health, with its accompanying slow physical and mental decline, is the opposite of a good life. I totally agree.

Exercise

We need to move every day. Stop sitting for long periods of time. Focus on strengthening our core. Do balance exercises. Exercise daily or at least 3-4 times per week. Do everything in our power to prevent falls.

Nutrition

Genetic factors aside, the majority of chronic diseases can be prevented through good nutrition. 

As I have mentioned before, this means eating real whole foods. Minimizing the intake of processed and ultra-processed foods. Eating lots of colorful fruits and veggies. Incorporating sources of Omega 3s. Limiting added sugars and simple carbohydrates.

Final Thoughts

Spending time in an inpatient hospice facility was a relevant reminder of my limited time on earth. 

It reinforced the importance of staying healthy by taking care of my body, spending time with loved ones, and being grateful for each day.

As a side note, my mom no longer qualified to stay in the hospice facility. We needed to move her again, and the only option offered initially was a skilled nursing home. I toured several 24/7 long term care facilities. All of them made me so sad, even the one that looked like a country club and charged like one, too! I couldn’t imagine my mom spending her last chapter in one of these places.

The hospice social worker, who empathized with my concerns, came to my rescue. She offered a second option: licensed adult family care homes. These are homes located in neighborhoods where the homeowner is a licensed caretaker and responsible for a limited number of residents.

In my mom’s case, she’s in a family care home run by a nurse who only cares for three residents. 

Instead of substandard, commercially-produced food, Mom now enjoys home-cooked meals. This switch alone has perked up her appetite.

Instead of the endless rotation of nurses and CNAs (certified nursing assistants) found in a skilled nursing facility, Mom has one caretaker along with weekly visits from the hospice nurse.

Mom is much happier now, and so am I!

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