'Til Death Do Us Part

By Rev. Barbara Jordan Hospice Chaplain

Aurora VNA Zilber Family Hospice

Patient Story - 'Til Death Do Us PartWhen you are a caregiver in an acute hospice setting, experiencing death is a daily occurrence. Yes, there are variables as each patient and family is different in some regards. Maybe a patient has suffered for some time thus a sense of relief surrounds the family.

At other times, denial rules the day. Families struggle to acknowledge, let alone accept the reality, that the end of life is near for their loved one. Whatever the circumstances, there is one common factor – death. Acute hospice staff members, doctors, nurses, aides, social workers and chaplains are keenly aware that the ultimate truth is that the patient is dying.

Yet, on rare occasions, something very special happens along the way and we caregivers are touched deeply. Such was a recent experience for me. My name is Rev. Barbara Jordan, and I serve as a hospice chaplain at Aurora Visiting Nurses Association, Zilber Family Hospice in Wauwatosa, WI. Zilber is an 18 bed residential acute hospice facility built in a peaceful pastoral setting designed to accommodate the needs of patients and families in the waning days of their lives.

On Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 90 year old Violet was admitted to Zilber with a diagnosis of heart failure. After returning home later that same night, Violet's 91 year old husband, Frank, expressed concerns to his family that he did not feel well. He was taken to a local hospital where it was determined that he had had a stroke. Further medical evaluation indicated that there were no additional appropriate treatments for Frank and that he too was a candidate for hospice care.

Violet and Frank's family very much wanted them to be together in the last days of their lives. Enter the kindness of a stranger, another Zilber patient, who willingly moved to a smaller room so that Violet and Frank could be cared for in the same room.

During Frank's admission, son Brad shared that his parents had been married a very long time. August 26, 2013 would be their 69th wedding anniversary. Their large and supportive family was looking forward to celebrating this amazing event.

Midafternoon the next day, Thursday, July 18, 2013, Frank was admitted to Zilber Family Hospice. Once he was settled in, the staff gently moved Violet into an adjoining bed next to Frank's. Silently, they opened their eyes and there was a sense that each knew the other was present. A quiet calm filled the room, and one of the nurses lovingly placed a pillow between the couple and linked their hands together.

Within an hour of their placement next to each other, Violet died holding Frank's hand. Frank died on Sunday, July 21, 2013, 3 days, 3 hours and 3 minutes after Violet's death.