When I lived in Washington State, I worked for a while as communications liaison for Hospice of Kitsap County. It was an education for me about the hospice philosophy and its emphasis on death with dignity.
I’ve also volunteered for hospices in Washington State and Florida. In Fort Myers, my teenage granddaughter and I took our little dog Laddie to visit patients at Hope Hospice House, after he passed a test and became an official “visiting dog” — complete with name tag.
Helen and Laddie brought so much joy to the patients. Those who were able to talk often told Helen about dogs they’d had. And everyone, patients and families and staff alike, loved to pat Laddie, finding comfort in his soft fur, soulful eyes and calm presence. (Laddie passed away in 2016; he is sadly missed.)
I don’t fear death. But like most everyone else, I would like to die a good death. Maybe in my sleep, or from some instantaneous, noncriminal event.
Dying a good death means this to me: NO PROLONGED HOSPITALIZATIONS, NO HEROIC MEASURES, NO CPR. No well-meaning family members or doctors trying to keep me going by artificial means. Please, just say a prayer for me and let me go.
To help ensure a more peaceful end to my life, I’ve filled out “Five Wishes” — a document that spells out how I want to be medically treated — or not treated — when I can no longer make healthcare decisions for myself.
“Five Wishes” also lets me specify who I want to make these decisions for me at that time. And how comfortable I want to be; how I want people to treat me; and what I’d like my loved ones to know.
The “Five Wishes” form is available online at nonprofit www.agingwithdignity.com and at hospices and doctors’ offices. When signed and witnessed (notarization is not required in most states), it serves the same purpose as an Advance Directive for Healthcare, and is recognized in 41 states. Written in everyday language, Five Wishes is a really good thing to look into.
Hospice is a really good thing, too. I hope that if faced with a terminal illness, hospice will be involved sooner rather than later. Its nurses and social workers are dedicated, professional and caring. Their aim is to keep you pain-free, as comfortable as possible, and — in most cases — at home.
Here are some photographs I’ve taken at the Hospice by the Bay Resale Shop here in downtown San Rafael, Calif. The store has a lovely assortment of treasures for sale; it’s run by volunteers, and it’s all for a good cause.