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Stories of Compassion

Traveling the Journey at End of Life on Her Terms – Maggie’s Story

“I’ve seen what happens, and I didn’t want it,” said Margaret (Maggie) Spencer, 86-year old former gerontologist and founder of the Bureau of Aging in Luzerne and Wyoming Counties in northeast Pennsylvania.

Maggie was stretched out comfortably in a soft chaise lounge, prayer shawl draped on the back, in a bright and sunny corner her only daughter, Kelly, and beloved son-in-law, Patrick (Paddy) prepared for her in their home when Maggie decided it was time to choose hospice care.

On homecare for only a few days, Maggie shared the recent incident that precipitated her decision.

“I was living alone in my Dallas home of 22 years,” Maggie explained, “when I got up from my chair one evening to go over to the couch. Between the chair and the couch, I fell. I was able to reach the phone and tried to call my grandson, Jonathan, but I couldn’t reach him. I did not want to call 911, because I knew what they would do – they would send an ambulance to take me to the hospital, and then the hospital would send me to a facility. I said no way – I am going to wait until I can reach Jonathan or Kelly.”

And wait she did. Maggie lay on the floor all night. In the morning, she was able to reach her family. She told them what happened and what she wanted. What she wanted was NOT to go to the hospital or another facility. She simply wanted to be comfortable and live out the rest of her life the way she wanted to.

Maggie spent most of her life lobbying to secure benefits for seniors. As a young college graduate, Maggie started her career as a caseworker for the Department of Public Affairs. Jobs were not easy to come by, even for the privileged like Maggie, whose father was Secretary of the House of Representatives. She worked mainly on welfare cases, which ignited her passion for serving the poor and under-served. She saw so many older people with needs. Most were coal miner’s widows and wives who had nothing, and there were no services for them.

For the next several decades, Maggie set out to change that. Under a state demonstration project, Maggie founded her first of 50 senior citizen centers in an old shoe store on East Market Street. In addition to the Bureau of Aging, Maggie also founded a local Meals on Wheels and Foster Grandparent program. After the flood of 1972, Maggie helped relocate over 6,000 people that lost their homes.

Sipping a scotch and water and munching on cheddar cheese goldfish before turning in for the evening, Maggie shared that she is thankful that people have it better now than they would have because of the things she did. Not a bad legacy indeed.

“I did the best with what I could. I was blessed that God put me in the right direction,” said Maggie. When asked what she likes best about being on hospice service, Maggie is quick to respond, “The wonderful people who come and visit me.”

She smiles at her hospice nurse, Megan Moore, who is by her side as we chat. “They are my friends. I always want them to stay longer, but I know they have others that need them too. They are so precious.”

The weekend before our visit, Maggie’s family hosted a “Celebration of Life” party where they shared past memories and created even more. In addition to her family, many of Maggie’s new hospice family members joined the gathering, too.

“I am so blessed that I can make my own decisions and don’t have to go where I don’t want to go. I will stay here with my daughter as long as she will have me. I have a living will. Kelly is my POA, and I am DNR,” states Maggie very matter-of-factly and with great confidence and peace.

What does Kelly, a Hospice Volunteer Coordinator at Healthcare at Home, have to say?

“The best thing about having Mom on the hospice program is that it is allowing me to enjoy being her daughter thanks to the wonderful care our aides give Mom.”

Maggie is traveling her journey at end of life on her terms, surrounded by the things she enjoys, the people she loves, and still deeply and significantly influencing the lives of those around her. It is a peaceful, comfortable, dignified and joy-filled journey.

For more information on making sure your healthcare choices and decisions are known and to access resources for advanced care planning, visit www.nhdd.org. For more information on Hospice care or the Journey Program, please call 1.800.381.8080.

Every Life Has a Story

Every life has a story, and as a hospice nurse Cindy Adams gets to help patients write their final chapter. And while helping others, she is also creating her own beautiful life story.

Cindy didn’t set out to be a nurse. She didn’t even know it was what she wanted to do. Until she was 30, Cindy was a waitress, a part-time bookkeeper and a stay-at-home mom to her three children. Then the dreaded day came when her beloved father became ill and was put on hospice care. Cindy had never experienced dealing with the death of a loved one. Her dad’s passing shattered her world. Little did she know her life’s purpose was about to be determined.

“When Dad took his last breath, my family and I were all holding him,” Cindy reflectively recalls. “I was scared. My life changed in that heartbeat. I didn’t know how to accept it. I was so thankful for the tenderness and compassion of the hospice team that not only cared for Dad, but helped my family and me through it all, too.”

Now a Hospice Nurse for Healthcare at Home, Cindy is on the other side of the bed. She is now the one comforting the daughter, son, husband or wife when their loved one’s time comes to write their final chapter.

“Sometimes I feel selfish actually,” Cindy admits. “I receive so much more than I give. What I am given through my experience is not material. Sure I get paid, but I also receive something of the heart that nobody can take from me, and it is something I can also use and share with others. What I learn from every patient and every family makes me stronger and better at what I do.”

Each morning when she wakes up, Cindy tells herself that yesterday is done, tomorrow isn’t here yet, but what she does today matters. “I want to make a difference in someone’s life,” says Cindy. “Every day, I ask the Lord to guide the words on my lips, be my ears, guide my heart, and let me know what I can do to make a difference in someone’s life.”

And that she does! Spending final days and hours with patients and their families allows Cindy to help them deal with the “important stuff” like she did with patient Mary and her daughter recently.

After the physical needs of dealing with pain and comfort were taken care of, talks with Mary centered on going home, the wonderful life she lived, and being ready to join her husband. When Mary’s daughter finally reached the point of being ready to let go of Mom, Cindy knew the last two weeks while Mary laid in a coma in bed were meant for Mary’s daughter. They talked about how tired Mom was, how short our time on earth is, and how Mom’s spirit would always be with her. Sometimes they sat and talked into the wee hours of the morning.

As Cindy went through the respectful ritual of preparing Mary’s body after death, she contemplated, as she does with each patient, “I wonder if she’s happy now? What is it like on the other side? Did I make it any easier… any better?”

“Each death is a privilege and an honor to be a part of,” Cindy says as she gives her final gift of dignity to Mary and the gift of peace to Mary’s daughter through this humbling and heartfelt ritual.

Every life has a story, and as Abraham Lincoln once said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Healthcare at Home would like to thank Cindy Adams and all of our other homecare and hospice nurses, as well as nurses everywhere, for the extraordinary service they provide in the stories of people’s lives.