Hospice Care can Help to Provide a Peaceful Farewell
Over his ten months in hospice care, Bill Bodner spent lots of quality time with his three granddaughters Ava, Mya, and Hannah.
Making end-of-life decisions for the patient, family caregivers, and loved ones can be a heartbreaking experience. We are aware of the ultimate end that faces all living things, but few of us deal with this reality until we’re overwhelmed at being compelled to do so.
Thankfully, organizations like Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County can help. The non-profit group has existed for more than 100 years, offering professional nursing and support services, as well as compassionate hospice care for people of all ages.
Wilton’s Johanna Salvino is the daughter of former hospice patient Bill Bodner, of Norwalk, who died last August following a long, debilitating illness. She says the support and care her father received in hospice was invaluable to both of them.
“My dad—everybody called him ‘Poppie’—was incredible and he would never let anyone know how sick he was,” Johanna recalls. “He suffered with MS most of his adult life and fought to stay out of a wheelchair for many years. My mother, Heidi, was his full-time caregiver until 2015, when she got pneumonia. She was in the hospital for 31 days before she died.”
Having three young children at home, Johanna was suddenly faced not only with the grief of losing her mother but also the added responsibility of caring for her ailing father. With the help of her brothers, she made what she calls “the most difficult decision of my life,” by moving her father out of the family home and into a care facility.
Following a grim diagnosis when doctors told the family he wouldn’t survive the night, Bill rallied, surprising everyone, and spent the last 10 months of his 78 years in hospice, surrounded by loving family and palliative care professionals.
“At first, we were completely overwhelmed and didn’t know what to expect from hospice,” says Johanna, “But they were absolutely amazing and taught us what hospice is really about. The level of compassion and care was incredible. Everyone was friendly and helped us to find some joy and laughter, along with the tears. They even brought in Sophie, a therapy dog, which was great.”
Sophie, an eight-year-old Labradoodle service dog, is a regular visitor to hospice patients in the area. Her owner, Kimberly Lewis, is a former elementary school teacher, who was first introduced to canine assistance services when her own parents were in hospice care. Retired from teaching, she now dedicates her time to hospice and volunteers with Sophie.
“Sophie brings out a lot of joy,” says Kimberly. “I love taking her to visit and making people’s days a little brighter. I know how much it meant to my parents. Bill Bodner loved to interact with her. He’d sit in his wheelchair and they’d play fetch. Sophie has a real understanding of when people can play or not. She knows what’s expected of her.”
Kimberly also recalls a special day when Bill’s grandchildren were there while she and Sophie were visiting. “Bill and I chatted about his grandchildren all the time. They meant the world to him. People don’t always treat you the same when you’re sick. We forget that they’re still the same person they always were. Seeing him with his daughter and grandchildren, having a play date with Sophie was, well… it was a good day”.
Johanna, her ten-year-old and her eight-year-old twins also remember that day with a smile. “He taught them so much,” she says, her kids shouting memories in the background. “Push through … live life to the fullest. He would always smile, even at the end. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by family.”
While the death of a hospice patient may be the end of physical medical care, the work of hospice providers can continue for as long as a year or more as they assist the patients’ families through grief counseling.
Tina Stapkowski, who also assisted Bill Bodner, is a palliative and hospice primary care nurse. With a loving perspective she has spent the last decade helping patients and their families through hospice. “This is the only thing I want to do,” she says. “When someone is born, everyone gathers around. But when a person is passing away, people tend not to visit. I enjoy bringing peace and support. It’s a beautiful and peaceful time.”
“Acceptance is the hardest part,” continues Stapkowski, “but it’s a privilege to be with someone at the end of their life. We all deserve that care and being able to retain our dignity.”
THE RIGHT STUFF
Sophie, an eight-year-old labradoodle owned by Kimberly Lewis, is a certified therapy dog who provides comfort to hospice patients. Does your pooch have what it takes? Find out at usdogregistry.org.