Mother’s Day story: on hospice and unexpected gifts

This Mother’s Day is the first I will spend without my mom. I’ve been thinking about her last days of life, and how grateful I feel that they were filled with love, dignity and peace.

It was a Tuesday in December, I’ll never forget—I drove to the hospital to see my mother who was waiting for test results. My father and brother were there, and the news was bad.

My mother had advanced pancreatic cancer.

The doctors said a high-risk operation might help a little, and my father pleaded with his wife of 62 years to consider it. But my mom was resolute.

Three generations of women looking over a notebook as the grandma writes in her recipe book
HopeHealth CEO Diana Franchitto (left) watches as her mom, Mary Lou, writes notes in her recipe book. Diana’s daughter, Felicia, looks on.

She grabbed my hand and said, “Diana, it’s going to be okay. I want to go home.”

Full of strength and grace, my mom knew she couldn’t halt the disease, but she was determined to control how she spent her remaining time.

Hospice was her choice, and that choice was a gift she gave to herself and her family.

As the head of one of the largest not-for-profit hospice organizations in the country, I work with an extraordinary group of professionals who support families in times of profound vulnerability.

After my mom came home, two of my colleagues—Susan, a nurse, and Mirella, a CNA—visited her every morning. Their warm presence along with a daily routine brought comfort to our family.

Susan managed my mother’s medications and symptoms so she wouldn’t be uncomfortable in any way. Mirella dressed my mom, styled her hair and put on her makeup. They made my mom feel like herself again.

My mom was involved in every detail of her funeral planning, from the hymns to the readings.

The afternoons were for visits from loved ones. Some gatherings were light and joyful, filled with chatter and laughs. Others were teary. A few people couldn’t bear to say goodbye in person but wrote beautiful letters that I read to my mom on their behalf.

My mom also used her time to settle unfinished business.

She thought about her jewelry, a modest but lovely collection of gifts from my father. “I want the people who wear these to think of me after I’m gone,” she said. So, we placed each piece in a Ziploc bag with a sticky note naming her chosen recipient.

One day my mom called for a fashion show. I tried on each dressy jacket in her closet and twirled like a model. “That one looks nice. Keep it,” my mom said. “No, that one’s not flattering at all!” It was wonderful to have a few moments of fun with her.

My mom was involved in every detail of her funeral planning, from the hymns to the readings.

She even alerted us to a stash of cash she’d hidden in a brochure years ago, “in case the banking system failed,” she said plainly.

Yes, my mom left her thumbprint on everything. We never had to fret over what she would have wanted because she told us herself.

Mom lived nearly a month on hospice, and every day was true living.

Ask yourself: What would bring peace to you or your loved one at the end of life? Your ideal experience might be different than my mom’s.

Most people would prefer to die at home, pain-free and clear-headed. Some people have bucket lists to accomplish. Others might seek to mend rifts and heal hearts.

Whatever you choose, hospice caregivers can make it happen. Now having watched them from my mom’s bedside, I appreciate their skill, compassion and humanity more than ever.

Mom lived nearly a month on hospice, and every day was true living. She passed away on her terms, feeling loved and respected.

When people ask how I’m doing, I say I’m grateful to have spent every day with my mom in her last month of life. I held her hand as she passed from this world to the next, which is more than any daughter could wish for.

It will be a while before I can tell my mom’s end-of-life story without a lump in my throat.

But I’ll keep on telling it because hospice offers something every human being deserves, the choice to die with peace and dignity.

Diana Franchitto is president & CEO of HopeHealth, a not-for-profit, community-based hospice, palliative and home care provider serving Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

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