Hospice Is Allowing My Father-In-Law To Die With Dignity

Hospice. How do you envision it? It has become more common, it seems. Or maybe it only seems that way because we are becoming the caregivers for our elderly parents.

My father-in-law is now in hospice care and, in a strange way, I feel better about his situation knowing that he'll be allowed to die with dignity.

Let's face it, no matter how you cut it, when you go to a 'senior village' -- or in his case a 'senior high-rise' -- the chances are good you're never moving again.

It starts out in your own place with total freedom to come and go. Keep up with your friends, invite them over, continue as you always had. But we all know what follows that lovely scenario if you live long enough.

Dad got a nice little efficiency apartment with a full kitchen, not that he cooked in it but, he had a fridge to keep his ice cream in.

The main dining room in the facility was lovely and the food wasn't half bad.

The biggest problem with the building itself was how under elevatored it was. I know that's not a word but, it should be in this case. People age in place waiting for the elevator to arrive.

You have to prove you don't need 'care' in order to get in but when that time comes you are covered. It's civilized in how it is structured, I believe. Our main concern, when dad went for his initial interview, was whether he would pass the test.

He'd had some scary moments while living in an apartment in our home and we hoped we hadn't waited too long. I wish I'd had a drum to do a rim shot as we watched him answer all the questions with ease and humor.

Once he was settled in we breathed a sigh of relief. There were lots of things to do there and we hoped he would make new friends. Nope. He would eat breakfast, then take three buses to his friend's house, around the corner from our house, and they would drive to the senior center in South Philly they had been going to for years.

Old habits die hard.

This went on for about a year before he had a mental breakdown and was rushed to the hospital. Turned out, he had stopped taking his meds and we never knew. He continued to get them refilled but then stashed them in the bathroom.

After his stay in the hospital, it was determined he needed an aide for, at least, 12 hours a day. We found a very good one who was with him for two years. By the second year, after a couple of falls in the night, we added another aide so he had help 24/7.

His trips on the bus were limited because he couldn't leave without his aide, so his friend, Harry, would come have afternoon coffee with him, almost daily.

Along with the mental decline came physical limitations. He was losing weight and becoming very frail.

After another trip to the hospital, he needed assisted living.

I orchestrated his move from Massachusetts to Philadelphia when he was 80. He needed to get out of the three-bedroom home he had been rattling around in for 12 years since Mom passed. And we were concerned about his driving late at night after a couple of cocktails.

He was afraid his furniture wouldn't fit in the one-bedroom apartment we'd found for him. I literally drew everything out to scale to assure him it would be fine.

I did it again in 2000 when we bought a triplex so he would have his own apartment in the same building with us.

I believe his comment when he realized he'd be in the efficiency was, "The next time they move me I'll be in a damn breadbox!"

He ended up loving it.

Getting him into the senior high-rise was difficult but we managed to make everything fit with few deletions.

When the time came for assisted living last spring we were left with only his dresser, TV, nightstand and tons of family photos.

Last week, after another trip to the hospital, the discussion of hospice came up. We learned he could stay where he is and receive hospice care. It was a relief.

My sister-in-law is in LA. She and my husband have had several discussions this past week as things progressed. But, here's the deciding factor, his living will.

We've had a copy since 1988 but hadn't read it since then. Maybe we should have because he could not be more specific and I'm afraid we didn't follow his directives as he might have liked.

"If the situation should arise in which there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery, from physical or mental disability, I request that I be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial means or 'heroic measures.' I do not fear death itself as much as the indignities of deterioration, dependence, and hopeless pain. I, therefore, ask that medication be mercifully administered to me to alleviate suffering even though this may hasten the moment of death.

This request is made after careful consideration. I hope you who care for me will feel morally bound to follow its mandate. I recognize this appears to place a heavy responsibility upon you, but it is with the intention of relieving you of such responsibility and of placing it upon myself in accordance with my strong convictions, that this statement is made."

We hear you now, Dad.

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