These days you don't have to look too far to see some tawdry tale of negligence in assisted living. Last years Frontline expose was a perfect example. And while I wholeheartedly believe those owners and operators who aren't doing their jobs should be penalized, the mainstream media gets it wrong so much much of the time. One of the ways they get it wrong is by neglecting to share the stories of death and dying that are not riddled with missteps and negligence. We need to take a look at this sacred occurrence from a different vantage point.
A Different View
About a month ago we had a gentleman pass away in our community. He had been in a skilled nursing and his family called us and said "please let us bring him back to your community on hospice so that he can live out his final days in his home."
That meant coordinating things with hospice late on a Friday evening; and visiting the skilled nursing facility to see him and his family inorder to ensure all was in order. In general, we sped up our preparations to accommodate him sooner than we'd planned. After he passed away we made transportation available to our residents and some staff who wanted to attend his funeral mass, and we held a celebration of life with the Chaplain from hospice who assisted residents, friends, family members and staff in processing their grief.
The other day I received an email from his son, thanking us for caring for his dad in his last 5 months of life. He expressed that his father truly regarded our community as his home and the staff and residents as his family. It was one of the kindest, most humbling family letters I've yet to receive.
Words to Contemplate
At a recent assisted living class, the speaker said something that struck me to the core. I never really thought about it from this perspective, but it is, in many cases, very true. She said, "Have you ever thought about what a privilege it is that your residents have chosen to die in your community?" It took my breath way when I heard it, because although I tell families it is always our goal to keep people through the end of life, it never quite impacted me as much as it had that day.
Love at the End of Life
We meet them in these later years, and when their flesh and heart fail, we are often there. We will be with them until the end. We will comfort them if their family is not able to be there. We will know their favorite things and seek to bring them those things during the last hours. And most of all, we will love them as our own family, our hearts breaking each time we lose one of these beloved residents. And despite the heartache, we will continue to do this over and over again with each resident who calls our community their home.