My Experience With Hospice for My Mother


My mother, Joyce Kidd Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 1987. She had always had benign lumps previously but this one in her right breast proved to be the "big C". She had a lumpectomy followed within the year by a partial mastectomy and a regimine of Chemotherapy. She went into remission, her hair grew back and the thought of death was far from everyone's minds.

The doctors told her that if she went two years without the cancer returning she would have an excellent chance of remaining cancer free. Twenty-one months later the cancer reappeared. She was devastated but still determined. She began chemo and once again went into remission. I was married in July of 1990 and her hair had all grown back at that point. I remeber teasing her because she had it done up almost in a beehive for the wedding! She wore a beautiful floral print dress and pearls. I had never seen her look more beautiful.

My first child was born in 1992 followed by my second in 1994. She had her ups and downs over the years but always bounced back. My mom was a strong woman with a great attitude. In September of 1996 she called me with the news that the doctors had given her four months to live because the cancer had spread to her liver. I think I did a lot of my grieving right there on the phone. I wish we would have gotten involved with hospice at that point but somehow we still thought she would bounce back again. Hospice seemed like a death sentence.

I started visiting with her a few times a week. She wasn't in any pain and looked great so it was difficult to believe her time was limited. She talked about taking a trip to Vegas and going bowling. Along with my 19 year old brother, we planned on doing all that we could in the time left.

My kids got sick in early October and I didn't want to risk her catching anything so did not see her for a couple of weeks. I was shocked by her deterioration when I was able to get back over there just two weeks later. She was walking with a cane and her face had a strange pinched look. After she fell down the stairs one morning due to confusion, I decided that hospice was our next step. She was resistant but my brother and I needed the help and professionalism. We decided on in home hospice and I became her primary caregiver.

Every day she grew weaker and more confused. We had a hospital bed brought in which made it easier to care for her. She did have brief moments of lucidity but they were becoming less and less frequent. During one of those times, she expressed to me her fear of dying and her love for me. I am so grateful for that time! After that, she wasn't really there anymore. She was so halucinatory and unrestful. She talked constantly but most of the time could not be understood. We're not sure if it was the pain medication or likely the cancer had moved to her brain.

On the evening of November 5th, all of her friends and family gathered around her bed. Her breathing was smooth and she seemed to finally be getting some decent sleep. I had to get home to my neglected family so I kissed her on her forehead and told her how much I loved her.

My stepfather called at 8:00 the next morning to tell me she was gone. Looking back, I think I knew when I kissed her the night before that I would not see her alive again. I am grateful to have been able to care for her in those last weeks and to have gotten a chance to talk with her and laugh with her. Hospice, I have learned, is not a death sentence at all but more a celebration of life.


You can send email to Tamara at: [email protected]
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anniversary date 11-05-96
date of post 04-05-97

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Crisis, Grief, and Healing: Tom Golden LCSW