Dying Gracefully and Gratefully


No one wants to hear a doctor tell them that an illness will end their life but when George heard this message, he wanted to make sure the time he had left was spent wisely.

Both George and his wife Marsha had lost their first spouse and had been their caregivers. George wanted to make sure Marsha had support through his illness and relieve her of some of the caregiving responsibilities. When friends offered to help, George took them up on it. He had to travel to London often for treatments and several friends took turns driving. “George enjoyed visiting with his friends during these trips and the conversations were always different. We were both very thankful for their help” shared Marsha.

George also asked Marsha and his immediate family if they would like to join him on the Rocky Mountaineer train trip and they readily agreed. “This trip was something he had wanted to do for a long time. Before he got too sick, we made sure it happened. It was an amazing adventure!” shared Marsha.

Because they had both been caregivers before, they had an idea of what might lie ahead for them. They were both familiar with the Chatham-Kent Hospice and agreed that, when it was time, that’s where George wanted to go to live his final days. They connected with Hospice early to see what they would have to do when the time came and learned that there were supports they could benefit from now.

“We started working with the Spiritual Care Coordinator through phone calls to manage our anticipatory grief. It was extremely helpful. She asked all the tough questions, gave us direction and helped us face things earlier than we might have. It really helped improve our communication with each other” shared Marsha.

George’s illness progressed and they started having a nurse from Home & Community care visit. George had asked the nurse how they would know when it was time to go to hospice. When he experienced two falls in one day, they all agreed that it was time.

George spent 5 weeks at Hospice. He worked with the Hospice care team to create a personal care plan. His goal was to stay lucid as long as possible while being comfortable so he could visit with family and friends. His pain was managed really well and the staff got to know when he needed more medication before he even asked for it.

For the first two weeks, he had a lot of visitors and also got to know the hospice staff well. “George loved meeting new people and would ask the staff about themselves. Sometimes the housekeeper just wanted to move on to the next room but George would keep them in conversation as long as possible” shared Marsha with a laugh. When George started to tire more easily, the Hospice staff and volunteers helped manage visitors so George could rest.

Both George and Marsha not only got to know the Hospice team but trust them as well. “It made it very comfortable knowing that George was in such good hands. I felt comfortable going home in the evening and getting a good night sleep without worrying about him. I didn’t realize how tired I was until then” shared Marsha.

Although they were very familiar with the services offered by the Hospice, the personalized care still surprised them. “George got talking with one of the care team asking if they still made Juicy Fruit gum. The next day, they brought in gum for George. Another day, George was really craving rice pudding with raisins. One of the staff went into the kitchen and made him some from scratch. He loved it and it was the last thing he was able to eat” shared Marsha.

Another surprise for Marsha was how well she was cared for. “The staff and volunteers always checked in with me and made sure I had eaten. On a particularly bad day, a staff member pulled me out of the room and we sat down and chatted. It was so nice to be able to talk to her. It helped me better manage what was happening” shared Marsha.

After George’s death, Marsha continues to receive grief and bereavement support through the Hospice as she navigates her grief journey.

George’s son, Colin, shared this in his eulogy:

“To the Staff and Volunteers of the Chatham-Kent Hospice – My Dad set out on a mission to die gracefully and gratefully.  His leukemia was a pretty determined foe that had other ideas.  But each of you, with your compassion, professionalism, respect and warmth made it possible for my Dad to die with dignity.  The Chatham-Kent Hospice is a very special place – I am convinced that every single person I encountered on my visits there was at least part angel.  If you can, please consider donating.”