As an administrator with HopeHealth, I’ve always known my colleagues on the hospice team work hard to bring comfort to patients and their families. This year, however, my appreciation is even stronger because the patient was my father, and the family was mine.
This story is my tribute to Erika Small-Joseph, the HopeHealth hospice aide who cared for my Dad, Steven Fusco, in his final weeks of life.
Dad started HopeHealth hospice in April. He had been navigating a rare degenerative neurological disorder called multiple system atrophy (MSA), and the time had come to focus on quality of life.
Making the decision to start hospice can be difficult. Even I as a hospice professional felt uncertain making this leap for my father. Reflecting back, though, I only wish we started sooner.
From the moment Erika first entered my father’s home, he knew she was special. Dad was a lifelong New York Yankees fan and always asked his health care providers, “Are you a Yankee fan or a Red Sox fan?”
Erika passed the test by replying, “The Yankees, of course!” and added that she used to live blocks from Yankee Stadium. Dad grinned from ear to ear, and every day thereafter would ask, “When is Erika coming again?”
What an unselfish gift to open one’s heart to a new friendship, knowing there is a time limit on that connection.
Erika spent the next month providing personal care to Dad that was exceptional in so many ways. She made every interaction enjoyable, dignified and memorable. She took the time to get to know Dad’s interests and have conversations about his family, work, vacations and the other life experiences that made him who he was.
Those conversations opened the door to a newfound friendship for Dad. He trusted Erika, and so did we as his family.
In time Dad’s health declined. He could no longer communicate verbally, and yet Erika continued the gentle chatter and storytelling. Every time she stopped by—“Good morning, Steven! I’m here and I’m going to take care of you today.”—a noticeable calm came over Dad.
Hospice aides are incredible people who get to the core of the person they are caring for and build relationships with people in their most vulnerable moments. Erika worked with respect and humility and brought Dad true joy.
What an unselfish gift to open one’s heart to a new friendship, knowing there is a time limit on that connection. My family can never thank Erika enough, not only for bringing peace to Dad’s end-of-life experience, but for being his friend.
Pictured: Deanna Upchurch (left) director of clinical outreach services, and Erika Small-Joseph, CNA, hospice aide for HopeHealth.