‘Tis the season for gratitude! It may seem counter-intuitive to use the word gratitude when thinking about end-of-life care, but Cindy Laughlin found the true heart and soul of hospice was illuminated for her not only when her mother was on HopeHealth hospice services, but also many months later when she needed it most.
“My mother, Betty, was feisty, strong-willed, and her favorite expression was ‘love life,’ and she was someone who really loved life,” Cindy explains.
Cindy’s parents were best friends and did everything together. When her father passed away, Cindy’s mother was lost without the love of her life and forever companion. Cindy promised to help Betty have the best “phase three” of life she possibly could and ensure her passion for living life to the fullest never dulled.
“We started going to the theater, going out to dinner, and planning any outings that she would look forward to.” Cindy laughs, “I tried to keep her busy. As long as there were cocktails, she was happy! She had a good, long, phase three.”
Betty was residing at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and though she was still physically strong and able, she did have Alzheimer’s disease. Cindy assumed she would continue her mother/daughter traditions at Steere House over the next several years. Unfortunately, just shy of Betty’s 97th birthday, her health began to deteriorate requiring higher level of hospice care.
This was quite a shock to Cindy, but she was grateful to have an entire team to help her navigate her mother’s condition. “It was amazing to have the support of the hospice team and to have people I could trust and check in with every step of the way because things started declining so quickly,” Cindy remembers. “It was amazing how much the team really understood what was going on with my mom and intuitively anticipated not only her needs, but mine. It was so comforting to have that support.”
Cindy went to one last Sunday concert with her mother at Steere House. During that day, she could tell that her mother was not engaged like she normally would be. Soon after that final concert, Betty passed away peacefully. Cindy had always thought her mother would make it to 100. Sometimes when grief defies our expectations, it can be even more challenging.
While bidding farewell to the hospice team that took care of her mother, Cindy was told that a HopeHealth grief counselor would be contacting her very soon.
When Alex Zima, HopeHealth grief counselor, reached out to Cindy, she politely declined grief support services. “To be honest I thought that it made me weak. I really thought that this was something I could get through on my own.”
It wasn’t until a month later when Cindy rented the Pixar film “CoCo” from her local library that things changed. “CoCo” was often played at Steere House, but Cindy never had a chance to finish it. Cindy found that she couldn’t contain her sorrow while watching the movie, sobbing as young Miguel travels “The Land of the Dead.” She realized that she needed support.
“The best thing I get out of grief counseling is realizing that I am not alone with my emotions,” said Cindy.
Cindy picked up the phone and made an appointment with Alex, but arrived at their first meeting with doubt and trepidation. After the first session she wasn’t convinced, but she made another appointment, and another, until she found she really trusted Alex. “I would joke that at least Alex had to listen to me and my stories about my mom.” She reflects, “How long after your loved one passes away do your friends really want to keep hearing you talk about someone who died?”
Using that as her crutch to keep meeting with Alex, she shared that most of the people she loved had died. She made peace with her own mortality, trusting that her best days were behind her. It was at that moment that Alex reminded her that she was still 12 years away from the age her mother was when she helped her mother have the most magnificent phase three.
“I told him, okay, you made your point!” Cindy says with jovial sarcasm.
Now, she’s in a much better place emotionally. “I had no idea I needed help until I received it. I had absolutely no idea how beneficial counseling would be until I started going. The best thing I get out of grief counseling is realizing that I am not alone with my emotions,” she says. “It has really helped me be more open in general and it has given me my own words and stories back.”
Grateful for her experience, she makes sure to reach out to families she connected with who have loved ones on HopeHealth hospice services at Steere House and pays it forward by sharing what she’s learned. “I tell them to make sure they take HopeHealth up on their grief support offer!”