Hospice and Hope
- By: Candace McKibben
Recently on NPR, I heard about the death of a person who had started a number of hospices in the New England area. The person being interviewed noted that at the time many men were dying from HIV/AIDS and needed the sort of safe and loving care that hospice philosophy supports. Not long after this interview, I heard Jim Towey, founder of Aging with Dignity and Five Wishes, address a crowd at Goodwood Carriage House about his work with Mother Teresa in Washington, DC, at her home for men dying from HIV/AIDS. While not officially hospice services, which in the United States was in its formative years at the time, Towey noted the hospice-like care that the Missionaries of Charity offered gave dignity and comfort to persons who otherwise would have died alone and in pain.
I sometimes forget that the modern hospice movement is a relatively young endeavor. The first hospice in the United States was opened by Dr. Florence Wald in 1974 in Brandford, Connecticut, and the first federal funding for hospice programs was finally approved in 1982. In 1986, the Medicare Hospice Benefit was enacted which gave the monetary stability needed for the movement to gain traction. Today, some 50 years after Wald, Dean of the Yale School of Nursing, had spent a sabbatical year to study with the founder of the modern hospice movement, Dame Cicely Saunders, we have hospices all across our nation.
Big Bend Hospice was one of the early hospices, opening in 1983 in the basement of a local church. Like many hospices, it has always been wonderfully supported by the community it serves. Because the mission of hospice is so sacred – to care for those we love as they deal with serious illness and dying, and to support those who mean the most to them – it is understandable that the community wants the best for the hospice it birthed in 1983. Because so many of us have the experience of using hospice services for family members or dear friends and finding the expertise and love shown critically important to their well-being and to our own, we are eager to do what we can to encourage hospice care.
And that is what you have been doing with great love in the days since your hometown hospice had a deep loss of its own. On December 12, Cathy Marie Adkison, who has been the CEO of Big Bend Hospice for eight years, died at her home in our hospice care. She who had inspired us with her courage and tenacity, battling cancer for years while keeping her finger on the pulse of the ever-changing hospice industry, allowed a team of hospice caregivers to support her and her family in the very care she has spent her professional career promoting. It takes deep humility for a leader to invite her staff to tend to her needs and the needs of her family but she did and in this way was teaching us all to the very end.
As an employee of Big Bend Hospice, I have heard from many in our community who are holding our agency and Cathy’s family in thought and prayer. At the December Coalition on Aging Meeting, Lisa Bretz, Executive Director of Advantage Aging Solutions (formerly the Area Agency on Aging) kindly asked that those of us in attendance remember Cathy, her family, and Big Bend Hospice. It was moving and a reminder of how much human services organizations need and rely upon each other. Individuals have also extended concern to those of us who work at Big Bend Hospice, assuring us of their loving support. Knowing this is sustaining. Staff have been given opportunity to write their memories and appreciation for Cathy and her leadership and will have opportunity to do more of this going forward. We are trying to practice what we preach about self-care and the rituals that help us process our grief.
What I know is we live in a community that cares about each other. People often say that hospice employees are angels, but in the past few weeks you have demonstrated that you are the angels as you let us know you are lifting us up in our sorrow and time of transition. Taking a lead from Cathy, who humbly allowed staff to serve her and whose hope was persistent, we also humbly receive your concern as we endeavor to stay true to our mission of inspiring hope to those living with a serious illness and dealing with grief in this, our 37th year of care for the people of the Big Bend.
A service celebrating Cathy’s life is being held at the Capital City Country Club at 11:00 AM on Saturday, January 4. The community is warmly welcomed. The family asks that you wear blue, Cathy’s favorite color, and pearls. As often happens in ministry, our efforts to comfort others end up blessing us. The parting prayer that Cathy shared with me is a lovely guide for us all. She said, “I pray the people of this world will find the strength to do what is right, to be forgiving toward others, and most of all to have hope.” Amen, Cathy.