2009 Fall Issue - Hospice Harmonies

A Reason To Remember by Janet Gates, Clark Fork Valley Hospital Hospice Manager

Recently, I came across an old file containing news clippings announcing the formation of hospice services for Sanders County, its first year anniversary and many heart felt notes from families expressing their thoughts on care given to their loved ones. Reminiscing in each reminded me of how far our Hospice Program has come over the past 16 years and how many lives we have touched and cared for in our county.

Our hospice program began under the umbrella of Partners in Home Care of Missoula in 1993 and became a department of Clark Fork Valley Hospital in 2001. Since the program began, I have had the privilege of being a part of the wonderful team of professionals and volunteers who care for patients and their families dealing with end of life issues. Notes received from families have a common theme; expressions of gratitude for the care their loved ones received. Phrases such as ‘your gentle smile lit up the room for my mom’ and ‘the sensitive professionalism shown meant so much’ brought the faces of those loved ones to my mind and tears to my eyes. Notes such as these continue to arrive at our office each month.

What those grateful families may not have realized is that we in hospice get so much, if not more, from the interactions we have with our patients. Something profound transpires when we open our minds and hearts, when we leave our own concerns and issues at the door and enter the home of someone who is living their final days. We are witness to the beauty and majesty of the mother or father being cared for by the adult son or daughter. We see the looks and smiles, frowns and tears, the real life grief and joy of being open to life’s most intimate moments.

I was reminded of an early morning call from a daughter reporting a change in her mother’s condition, and from the symptoms described I suspected the end could be near. As the nurse case-manager assigned to this patient, I had worked with the family over several weeks so the daughter knew just what to do until I could get there. As I came over the rise at Dykstra Hill from Thompson Falls to Plains, I could see all the way down the valley. The sky was filled with heavy rain clouds, and I remember noticing a small section of clouds separate to allow one large ray of sunlight through. It seemed to me that ray of sun was only striking Plains and I wondered if it could be striking Anna’s home. It seemed to me that ray of sunlight was a metaphor for what might be happening. Those dark heavy clouds had parted to allow the sun through. Anna’s daughter had experienced the darkest of days but the sun was still able to get through to her. She had indeed noticed that single ray of sun. 

Each of us in hospice has similar stories of how we have been blessed by our interactions with patients and families through the years. Each of us treasures those memories and each of us will recall the faces associated with names to be read at the Annual Tree of Life ceremony coming up in December.

I believe we conduct the Tree of Life Ceremony as much for ourselves as we do to raise money to continue our program. For we have the opportunity to pause and remember each hospice patient we have served over the years and to recall the blessings we received in doing so. So I look forward to this year’s Tree of Life ceremony just as I have each year before and hope to see you there.


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