By Barb Arland-Fye
John Carton’s prostate cancer had metastasized to his pelvis. He was getting weaker and experiencing more pain. It was an agonizing time for his family, who so desperately wanted him to get well. He made the decision to enter hospice, a decision that became a gift he and his family shared together.
“Dad was in hospice for about five weeks. I wouldn’t have expected him to live four days. He lived five weeks because we were better able to concentrate on just being with him,” said daughter Pat Retzl, one of John’s six children and a nurse by profession.
John entered the Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House in Bettendorf, a part of the Genesis Hospice program that seeks to provide a comfortable, homelike atmosphere for hospice patients. Pat is director of business operations for Genesis at Home, which — among other things — provides referral services for hospice patients.
For John and Irene, his wife of 61 years, and their children, hospice provided quality time together at the end of his life. “You can stay in a hospital; you can stay in a nursing home, but when you’re in those facilities you’re following the nursing home or hospital’s schedule,” Pat said. “The best thing about the hospice house and hospice in general is that it’s all about the patient’s need. If Dad wanted to eat at two o’clock in the morning and have a small omelet, he could have one … if he wanted to get up, he did, and if he didn’t want to get up, he didn’t.”
Pat remembers her mother worrying about John not eating. The Cartons were longtime, active members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Moline, Ill., and their faith brought them great comfort, so Pat suggested, “Mom, just pray with him.” Her mother took that advice, praying the rosary and saying other prayers.
Their parish priest visited on a daily basis. “When Dad got so bad it was the hospice people who said, “‘We better call Monsignor.’ There is so much respect for whatever your religious preferences are,” Pat said. Family members were able to stay at the hospice house around the clock as John approached death. His wife was allowed to lie down beside him. In his last moments, on June 4, 2010, he turned toward his wife to give her a kiss, said his daughter, who gets choked up recalling that memory.
Hospice is about “taking that next step in your journey,” she continued. But that can be tough, because the health care industry is focused on curing people. Hospice eases the transition, and hospice workers “help people talk through their feelings, rectify anything they need to rectify and resolve any issues so they die peacefully and comfortably and everybody feels better about it.”
Pat knows this from her family’s personal experience. “I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything.”