By Mary Ann Messer
Mark Fitzpatrick and his family experienced the gift of hospice care this year. Mark was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in February. Hospice was not new to the family. Mark’s wife, Janni, a registered nurse, serves on a local hospice board and has worked in the same facility for 20 years. Other family members serve as hospice volunteers.
The prognosis for Mark was not favorable, barring a miracle — and miracles do happen. Medical measures were taken in February and March to stabilize Mark’s condition. After these procedures were accomplished, Mark was again evaluated and it was determined that while these procedures were successful, the cancer had continued to grow elsewhere (“Not my will, but thine be done”).
On March 30, 2011, medical options were presented. Mark, along with the support of his family, decided to request hospice services from Hospice of Central Iowa (HCI) in Mount Pleasant. This allowed Mark to be at home on the farm that had been his home for the last 67 years. Mark was fortunate to have a wife who is an RN. Her nursing skills were wonderful in caring for her husband, and no doubt a final gift as a spouse. Hospice offered support by providing a treatment team to Mark and his family. This team gave professional support to determine what medical devices and supplies were needed, ordered them and delivered them to the home. The team was a phone call away and made regular visits to the home during Mark’s illness. A hospice team can include a nurse, a social worker, a home health care worker, a chaplain, a massage therapist and a volunteer. Bereavement counseling for the family is offered as follow-up.
Why hospice? What did hospice make possible for Mark’s family? Hospice gave the family the resources to provide the care needed at home. Mark’s family and many others were able to visit, and share memories the next five weeks in familiar surroundings. Mark’s sons could continue the farming operation on a day-to-day basis and still have time to be with their dad daily. Mark’s daughters and grandchildren could regularly visit. The grandchildren could hug Grandpa, go out to play and return again to hug Grandpa throughout their visits. The presence of Mark’s children and grandchildren was a support for Mark and Janni.
Mark’s time at home was as much for Mark as it was for those who loved him. The miracle of letting go occurred as Mark was dying. Mark’s family experienced letting go as the dying physically took place. I believe this experience would not have been as grace filled had hospice resources not been available. In particular, the grandchildren were able to observe their grandpa physically deteriorate in a familiar setting. One grandchild expressed that while he did not want Grandpa to die he wanted him to be in heaven so he could be healthy again. That is a grace! That is a miracle! While those who were a part of Mark’s life still wish for Mark’s physical presence, we have the gift of faith which sustains us.
“They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” — St. John Chrysostom.
(Mary Ann Messer belongs to St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant and is the sister of Mark Fitzpatrick.)