What Hospice Has Taught Me

Six months ago, Karen began a decline in her health that led me to believe we were looking at a few days remaining.  But true to form, she is still hanging tough and fighting to the very end. We engaged hospice care in June and it has been the right choice for us since we decided to forgo any further chemotherapy.  I’ve been told that people often involve hospice too late. I’m glad we have that component in place and have been proactive. 

Another decision we made together was for me to commit to become her primary caregiver and not look for fulltime employment.  Anyone who has made this decision knows the unique challenges that come with being a caregiver.  At this point, hospice is as much for me as it is for Karen.  The support they provide helps lighten my load as well as hers.

When this third diagnosis came to us last November, I vowed to do some things differently.  I knew from the previous two times that I had choices. Even though I did not choose cancer, I could choose to refuse its dictation.  I made a resolution that cancer would not tell me what to feel, nor would it leave me hopeless.  Cancer is invasive, but I would not let it invade the greater parts of my soul.

When I was a young boy, my dad had a standard reply to any question that had a complicated answer and require an advanced explanation.  I can remember asking him to tell me about the Vietnam war or Watergate and his response was always, “It’s hard to describe, son. You just have to pay attention.” Even though I was too young to understand what he was doing at the time, I’ve taken that advice into my midlife years.  When a situation defies explanation, often the best approach is to slow down and pay attention.

In this third season, I’ve done just that. I willfully and deliberately make choices that allow me to pay attention. I miss working, but I will never get this time back.  There will be plenty of time in the future to work.  The time to pay attention is right now.

As I pay attention, I notice new things.  I notice that crisis makes friends feel helpless. When they ask me what they can do for me, they mean it. And I’ve learned to lean into that.  I’m perfectly capable of mowing my own lawn, but when a deaconess from my church suggested having members come over and take care of the grass, I said yes. At first, I felt guilty, but after the second week, I saw it differently.  Letting people aid and support me prevents them from being robbed of the joy they acquire when they serve in a practical way.  And it frees me to keep my mind on other things at hand.

I pay attention to how the house smells.  Without realizing, aroma is helping etch memories of this season of hospice.  Aroma is our biggest memory trigger; therefore, I make intentional effort to make the house smell pleasing with candles, essential oils and baking bread.  The payoff is seen when nurses or visitors stop by and comment how great is smells in here. And even better to hand out fresh sourdough bread as they leave.  I want guests to encounter something unusually hospitable in this less than pleasant ordeal.

I pay attention to my thoughts more diligently now because everything flows from how I think.  If I think this season is unfair, that reasoning will certainly lead me down a path I have resolved not to take. If I think life is hopeless, then I will begin acting that way.  Instead, I monitor my thinking and refuse to let it dictate an undesirable outcome.

On the other hand, there are some things I don’t pay attention to.  I don’t pay attention to statistics on cancer.  Karen’s OB/GYN taught me the importance of ignoring statistics.  He said the internet is full of numbers and figures, none of which belong to Karen yet.  His advice was to pay attention to everything good in our lives and to focus on the things we can control and let the chips fall where they may. This was so helpful because Karen has already beat the national average soundly.

44 thoughts on “What Hospice Has Taught Me

  1. Mama Shinn says:

    I think you have gotten good advice. It is hard to listen to others when we are hurting. We just want the pain to go away. You all are handling the situation pretty well, just hang in there. Love you both lots.

  2. Kathryn Sandquist says:

    This is so moving. I admire both of you so much! Your wisdom is so inspiring. Know that both of you are close in my heart and prayers!

  3. Peg Reynolds and Orville Jones says:

    Karen & Kevin,
    Tears roll down my face as I read your blog but it also brings a smile to me as I know you are giving that beautiful lady the best care ever. I too was a caregiver for my father; days I will cherish forever…we laughed, we cried and those memories are with me always. Karen and your family are in our daily prayers; I think of you all every day at prayer time. Please hug that amazing woman for us and tell her how much we love her; we cherish our mornings and evenings from our time at Bread n Cup…her smile is contagious and her heart as big as anyone I know. I know God is holding her in his loving caring, healing hands and giving you the strength you need.

  4. Leah says:

    Really, really sorry to hear this news. Karen has always been such a light. This is maybe a silly thing to share, but I used to frequent B&C for lunch fairly regularly back in the early days because I worked nearby. Sometimes I’d meet my mom for lunch, and on rare occasions she’d talk me into having a glass of wine — and Karen, bless her heart, would always put my wine in a coffee mug in case one of my coworkers showed up unexpectedly. Her conspiratorial wink and smile always made my day. What an incredible person. Wishing you both peace and comfort during these hard days.

  5. Pam says:

    Love and respect you both. Wish we all lived near each other. Love your heart and voice in your writings. Big hug to Karen. ❤️

  6. Anna Hamilton says:

    It is good of you to allow others the blessing of being a help to you. It is good to cherish this precious time with your very special wife. Prayers going up for you all.

  7. Suzi Roberts says:

    So well thought out and written. Basic truths we all need. Thank you for sharing! ❤My love and prayers are with you and Karen.

  8. Dianne Stovall says:

    Karen used to sub at Fredstrom, where I worked. What an incredible person! My prayers are with you both as you walk through these days.

  9. Beth Haase says:

    Thanks for sharing Kevin! Accepting help is a gift to others as well as for you and Karon to get the gift of time together. She is a strong woman!
    Love & hugs,
    Beth

  10. Cathy Anderson says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this positive, in control (of what you can be) message. Sending you both continued strength and positivity.

  11. Alicia Carlson says:

    When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, Karen was, and has continued to be, my biggest inspiration to be hopeful, and not to focus on the statistics. She told me her thoughts on beating poor odds -“why NOT me?”

    When I was scared that I wouldn’t beat cancer, I thought of Karen: “why NOT me?”
    Since I’ve been declared in remission, and at times terrified by my high chances of recurrence, I have thought of Karen- and beating the odds. Why not me?

    Her bravery and faith make me strong to fight my own battles.

  12. Chris Goree says:

    Kevin, thank you for your words of wisdom and experience. I think your advice applies to many situations. God bless. Praying for you guys.

  13. Paul Cook says:

    God bless you both in this season of uncertainty. May God hold both of you in the palm of His hand and give you peace and show you the light of His face through those who come to minister to you until we stand in His presence in eternity

  14. Barbara pennybaker says:

    So glad to pray for you both. Went to dedication of new BSU bldg at ou tonight and saw many of your friends and former school mates and staff members. Love you.

  15. Rainee says:

    I came across this randomly on FB, and as a hospice nurse, Really enjoyed reading your share. Please keep telling your story! Peace and light to you both <3 ~Rainee, Aseracare

  16. L Howe says:

    My family engaged hospice when my mom was declining in health from cancer. At the time, she was similar in age to Karen. You are very right that it is just about you as it is her. They took care of our entire family and provided a lot of necessary direction and comfort when things seemed anything but that. Peace to your entire family. You won’t regret taking this time with her.

  17. Wilberta Cullison says:

    A very good post, Kevin. Hospice is a very good organization. We had them with Stephen and so did Freida. Love you and family. Praying for everyone.

  18. Rebecca says:

    One of God’s goodnesses to us is that you write. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your heart. You neither deny nor dwell in the hard. It is a gift and so encouraging. We love you and your family and are praying for you all.

  19. Dr. Clark Roush says:

    I have thought a lot about how the fringes of our lives have intersected – not all in ways we would have chosen. I remain grateful for your heart, your thoughts, and the positive ways you have touched multiple people in my family – including myself. I guess, since we don’t know exactly what the future holds, it’s wise to trust the One who does. You and your family remain in my prayers.

  20. Julie says:

    Hospice was wonderful when my mother fought ovarian cancer. Stay strong and cherish every moment you have together. Praying for all of you.

  21. Katy says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with you both. I admire both of your strengths. I a very sad for both of you. I am so grateful and blessed I got to know you both on our time here in earth.

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