Hospice Experience Celebrated in 'Light Up a Life'
During the five months that their husband and father was a FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care patient, Gisela and Dana Danielson learned many lessons about life's final journey, including the fact that people typically die as they have lived.
Gus Danielson was no exception.
The former B-17 pilot, successful businessman and hurricane hunter embarked on the business of dying much as he had handled the business of living -- as a take-charge, opinionated kind of guy with no intention of going softly into any Dylan Thomas-like good night.
At first, Gus balked at the idea of hospice care, asserting that the referring physician had prematurely assigned him to "one-foot-in-the-grave" status when he suggested the impending need for hospice aid. His attitude changed when hospice support, which has continued for Gisela and Dana since he succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis on Sept. 5, became a familiar part of his family's life.
"It's a wonderful approach," Gisela says.
On Thursday, Dec. 3, Gisela and Dana Danielson will join other hospice families and caregivers for the annual "Light Up a Life" program at the FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care office on Aviemore Drive in Pinehurst. An opportunity to dedicate holiday lights in memory or in honor of loved ones and friends, the "Light Up a Life" tree-lighting ceremony is a fundraiser for the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation.
A former member of the FirstHealth of the Carolinas Board, Gisela Danielson has been aware of the "Light Up a Life" tree-lighting for a long time and had previously made donations to the program. But she has never attended a ceremony.
This year will be different.
"Both Dana and I will plan on it," she says.
Like Gus Danielson, people often think of hospice care only for its support at the end of life. But, according to Charlotte Patterson, director of FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care, it includes much more.
"The concept of hospice and palliative care strives to provide care and services to patients and families earlier in the disease process rather than later," Patterson says. "Sometimes there are fears that accepting hospice care too soon may hasten death. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Earlier admissions to hospice have shown that patients receive much improved symptom control and pain management, therefore increasing their ability to enjoy a higher quality of life."
Hospice-provided education, resources and respite can also result in a more comfortable and confident caregiver response, Patterson points out.
"So often, we hear families say how they wish they had known about hospice sooner and how helpful an earlier admission would have been," she says.
That was certainly the case with Gus Danielson, who was still feeling relatively well when registered nurse Donna Neal and the rest of his FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care team became part of his routine -- not only seeing to his and his family's needs, but also helping ease a concern that all three members of the family shared.
"He was so concerned that he would suffer," Gisela recalls, "but he was assured there was no need to worry about that."
Gisela and Dana refer to their Hospice and Palliative Care experience as a "family affair" and note that they were included in all decisions concerning Gus' care. They came to know everyone involved in the Hospice visits that became more frequent as they were needed from a team that included hospice-certified nurse Neal as well as social worker Susan Meares and several personal assistance aides, even the drivers who delivered Gus' oxygen tanks.
"We felt supported at every level," says Dana, a graphic designer who left her Arizona home to be with her father during the last months of his life. "It's not just our nurse who undergirds us. It's every single person involved in the process."
FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care provides services in both Moore and Montgomery counties. Anyone needing more information on the "Light Up a Life" program can call (910) 695-7500.
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