Celebration of Life and Music

One wonderful aspect of hospice is the ability for nurses to be flexible and to carry out a patient’s wishes. Laurie Dean, an RN from AseraCare in Altoona, Pa., can attest to the fact that nurses have to be prepared for anything. “John had been a physician before he went into renal failure and decline. Upon leaving the hospital, he wanted to die at home. I was to meet the ambulance in rural Pennsylvania that night and admit him into hospice. The ambulance had kept his meds going during the journey, but left just a tank of oxygen for his hospice needs when it dropped him off. “I didn’t arrive until around 8 p.m. because I couldn’t find the house. It turns out there was no house — this was land where he and his wife wanted to build a home and now it was where he wanted to pass away. There was a kind of camp shed for equipment storage, but no electricity, no heat, no water.

“The ambulance was gone when I arrived, and John was sitting in a lawn chair, half in and half out of consciousness. About 20 family members were gathered around a huge bonfire. They had hung lanterns and there were pots of chili and marshmallows. “I have been trained to take care of situations that aren’t normal, so I went ahead and admitted John to hospice by flashlight. He was in pain and wasn’t able to swallow the pills that his wife had for him, so I crushed them and made them into a paste to put under his tongue to make him more comfortable.

I used lotions for skin care and freshened him. I put his flannel shirt on him and made him look like himself. “We found a cot for John, and his wife crawled in next to him. The family and I talked about the dying process. Everyone gathered around, playing guitars and singing and telling stories. It was a full moon on a beautiful April night. Every star in the sky was brilliant. “A nephew sang a song he had written about angels who walk among us, and as he sang, John slipped away around 4 a.m. with his wife curled around him. The peace that came over both of them was phenomenal.

The camp glowed with love and spirituality. Everyone cried, but they sang more songs after his death. It was a beautiful and amazing night that could never have happened without hospice.”