The subject of a loved one's impending death is one that makes many people very uncomfortable. Death is inevitable for all but it's not something most people want to think about.
Gerald Knutson, 82, of Oklahoma City, was recently in this type of situation. His wife, Audette, was very ill in 2010 and he knew that her life was likely drawing to an end.
It was Christmas Eve that year when Knutson decided to enlist the help of Centennial Hospice to care for his wife. She had been in a nursing home for several months and he knew that her health was rapidly deteriorating.
November is National Hospice Month. Knutson shared his story to help others in similar situations understand the value of hospice care.
“We make sure the patient is comfortable and cared for in the end stages of their life,” said Katy Jump, executive director of Centennial Hospice in Oklahoma City. “We're here for the patient as much as we're here for the family.”
Mrs. Knutson was in a nursing home for the last few months of her life.
After securing hospice care for her, caregivers visited her several times each week and also offered support and counseling to her family.
One very important aspect of hospice care, Mr. Knutson said, was that family support.
“It really helped me,” he said.
For example, it was a hospice caregiver who asked Knutson a powerful question: Had he given his wife permission to die?
“I hadn't thought about that,” he said. The caregiver told him that many times a patient will hang on because they're concerned about the ones they're leaving.
“So I screwed up my courage and got down there and told her I loved her and always would. And that she'd been a marvelous wife and mother,” he said, tears from missing his wife still fresh in his eyes.
He told her it was OK to go on and be with her mother, father and brother in Heaven. “And to feel free to do what her body told her to do.”
Then, his two grown children did the same.
“I don't know if it helped my wife or not because she was kind of out of it at the time — semi-conscious,” he said. “I hope it caused her to not have any reluctance at the thought of what her body was calling her to do.”
During the last few weeks of Mrs. Knutson's life, her hospice caregivers made sure she was comfortable and experienced as little pain as possible. Hospice caregivers are not intended to help treat illnesses. Their job is to make those last weeks or months as comfortable as possible for the patient.
“Anything I thought she needed and mentioned, they brought it. They were there anytime I asked. They were wonderful,” Mr. Knutson said.
Mrs. Knutson died Jan. 5.
Even after his beloved wife's death, Centennial Hospice was there for him. He said they regularly call and send newsletters and other information to help him in his time of grieving.
“No matter what, you're not ready to lose your loved one,” Jump said.
Many people don't realize that the costs for hospice care are generally paid for by Medicare or private insurance companies if the patient meets certain health criteria, she said.
Mr. Knutson said the hospice care his wife received made his ordeal somewhat more manageable, though nothing can take away the pain of losing a life-long companion.
According to Centennial Hospice, hospice is a unique kind of care designed to provide medical care as well as spiritual and emotional support for people who are facing a life-limiting illness. Hospice focuses on enhancing the quality of life, rather than the length of life. It affirms life and regards dying as a normal process. The goal is to ensure that patients spend their final days as comfortable and peaceful as possible. Centennial Hospice, as well as many other local hospices, rely heavily on volunteers who spend time with patients and their families, provide office help and other services. If you are interested in volunteering at Centennial Hospice, call 562-1211.