Written by Dana Metcalf, LPN, Sentara Nursing Center – Portsmouth

Dana Metcalf, LPN

I have spent the last few years helping hospice patients and their families adjust and learn new roles. In addition to the functions of my job, I have listened, encouraged, cried, hugged, taught and have done my best to bring a little sunshine into the lives of some of the most beautiful people I have ever met.

However, last year my mom was put on hospice care and I put my life on hold to take care of her. I can now say I have been on both sides of the fence and speak with deep understanding and a personal excitement about the new Sentara Hospice House.

As a hospice family member

We all know too well the things we endured during our time of caring for a loved one. We remember the pain, frustration, guilt, arrangements that had to be made, and the family situations we had to handle and rectify. Some of us completely stopped our lives and lived in a world that was surreal.

We had to go through the stages of grief we were taught. We watched as our loved one wrestled with mortality, a loss of independence, the undignified results of the changes in her body and her pain. We had strangers in and out of our homes, well-wishers coming over, lack of sleep, lack of personal time and a host of many emotions to deal with. We had to learn about medications, signs and symptoms, things to watch for, what to do, when to do it, who to call.

Hospice is such a romantic notion, but the reality of it, was a lot more than we expected. We got through it all though, we were strong.

I was a hospice aide, now I am a hospice nurse

Dana Metcalf, (center) surround her mother at bedside.

Before my mom died, I was a hospice aide, now I am a hospice nurse.

I rested well knowing I did everything I could to make the end of life better, more comfortable for the patient. I brought a smile to their faces, took them down memory lane before they passed, which was comforting for them, and interesting to me. I cherished each patient I encountered, I still do.

But, I never really thought a lot about what happened to the family after I stopped coming. I never realized how huge the holes in their lives became, or how a heart could hurt so much and for so long. The quiet in the house is stifling, the random bouts of tears are endless, it seems. Everything is a reminder of the love that left when they did. The connection with the past gone.

A sense of normalcy is gone.

After hospice ends 

Dealing with life at this point, has been nearly impossible for me, and worse for my dad. He and mom were married 54 years and were best friends.

My issues are simply that my mom is gone. I can’t pick up the phone or go by to see her any more. I can’t share my life, my kids or my grandchildren with her any more. My childhood memories are now only mine. I look in the mirror in the morning and see her in my face, I can’t escape that. I look more like her every day. I hear songs or watch shows that remind me of her and holidays…well they are even harder.

My father is dealing with much more. My mom was truly his better half and now he is alone. His reality, his sense of purpose, his reason for getting up in the morning is gone.

We all try to help, but it’s not the same. It never will be.

The frustration of not being able to fix it for him is overpowering for me.

Moving forward 

We started going to grief counseling. Our Chaplain Marsha has been instrumental for me to get back to work, back to school and join the rest of the world again. My life will never be the same, but I am functioning. My dad and I gained some solace in knowing that there were others out there feeling the same as us. Talking to others who feel the same as we do is so important.

Sentara’s grief counseling is an intimate setting and open discussion.  We talk as little or as much as we want. There is laughter and tears, but most importantly comradeship.

Without exception the Sentara hospice staff I have worked with are among the most compassionate, understanding, honest, knowledgeable and loving people. We all have the ‘calling.’

I am proud of the Sentara Hospice House because

My excitement for the Sentara Hospice House is based on the concept that patients will be able to go out for treatment and will be surrounded by the kinds of  people they are used to at home.  The love that comes from hospice workers is extremely unique. I know Sentara will fill this new facility with the same type of people who now perform this vital service in the home.

This project is so important for our community. We all want our loved ones to be able to pass on surrounded by family.  This facility will enhance the experience by providing professionals who will be there to take care of the issues the families cannot do at home and still maintain a peaceful, loving and caring environment.

Learn about volunteer opportunities, or make a donation to help support this new home for our community.