The Journey

Hospice Care
By Trista VanBerkum

Death scares people. Along with death comes a fear of the unknown and the pain of missing those who have died, a void difficult to fill, a part of life's journey difficult to navigate. It is a burden nobody wants to bear but all of us will face eventually.

But for those in Spokane who are facing a terminal illness, either their own or a family member's – there is a resource to help shoulder the burden and guide one through the uncertainty: Hospice House of Spokane.

Walking into Hospice House is like walking into the home of a friend. The term "hospice" stems from a Latin term meaning guesthouse or a place of rest for fatigued and sick travelers. Though 80 percent of hospice care takes place in a setting the patient calls "home," be that a nursing home, house, or hospital, this 12,000-square-foot house opened in November 2007 as a place for the terminally ill to come when required care exceeds what can be offered at home.

This place of respite centers on a welcoming atrium, open nurses station and family-style dining room. Stonework accents the exposed heavy wooden beams supporting the building. Couches are strategically placed in family-room settings inviting weary visitors to relax and regroup. A children's room provides an escape for young visitors.

The 12 private resident rooms are not like typical hospital rooms. On entering one of these rooms, you sense the calming effect of soft lighting from elegant table lamps. A bright quilt made by women in the Spokane community is chosen for each patient as he or she enters the house. A journal, or legacy book, filled with handwritten notes from past residents and loved ones sits at the end of every bed. Each room opens to an outdoor patio accessible by bed-ridden patients.

The patios were created with the patient in mind, as it is psychologically better for residents to know they are not trapped, says Dale Hammond, '98. This Whitworth alum is the development and communications director of Hospice.

Hospice House can accommodate only 12 of the more than 200 patients the organization serves daily, but the facility fully captures the essence of what Hospice care provides.

For Hospice is not just a place but a concept of respect and care. It is not just for those who are dying, it is for the living.

Hammond emphasizes that Hospice of Spokane provides care and support for anyone, with any illness, of any age. Those served include people ranging from birth to the age of 104 with many different terminal illnesses and six months or less to live. No one is turned away for their inability to pay.

A British physician, Cicely Saunders, brought the subject of dying out of darkness and founded the first modern hospice in the 1967 in London. Her mission was to provide comfort and dignity for those living with a life-ending illness.

Hospice of Spokane follows her mission and provides a specially trained team to take the hand of caregivers and offer relief 24/7 if needed. Registered nurses provide medical care. Chaplains and counselors offer advice on how to deal with specific situations and what to expect for the next step. Volunteers spend time with the ill, go grocery shopping, do light house work, or prepare meals and whatever needs to be done.

"With Hospice, nobody dies alone," says Hammond. Some volunteers will sit vigil for residents who do not have family or friends nearby.

For those who are still living, the burden of terminal illness is exchanged for the burden of grief after a patient dies. Hospice teams walk with family and friends by offering bereavement services and counseling. Grieving children are given special attention through after-school group therapy and a free, three-day summer camp at Camp Chmepa on Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Despite the availability of this wide range of services to offer relief, many people still fear bringing up the idea of calling Hospice for admission, Hammond says. "People feel as if they are giving up on their loved ones when they mention the 'h' word."

Hammond says using hospice care is not giving up, but allowing compassionate people to step in and guide patients and families through a painful part of life, to aid and comfort in grief.

"I wish people would not fear discussing the need for hospice care," says Hammond. "I wish people would be willing to come in earlier so we can help them earlier, prepare them. We can help counsel and comfort them."

Those in the Hospice movement know that for both the dying and their families, nothing removes the sting of death's reality. But Hospice offers a sense of relief in the terminally ill for closure on their own lives, and their families for the next chapter.

As Hospice founder Saunders says, "We do not have to cure to heal."