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Dear Abby 2/22

People with terminal illness should not be abandoned

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Posted: February 21, 2007 4:59 p.m.
Updated: March 8, 2007 5:00 a.m.
DEAR ABBY: I loved your response to "Wants to Reach Out in Boulder" (Jan. 8), who asked what to say to someone with a terminal illness.
    When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, many of her friends and family disappeared, and Mom felt sad and abandoned by the people she loved. The few that did make an attempt to come around would often burst into tears, which was upsetting for her.
    Rule 1: When you visit someone who is terminally ill, please keep your emotions in check and keep it light. What Mom appreciated most was laughter.
    Rule 2: References to the person "being in heaven soon" are also not particularly welcome, unless you know the person well enough to know he or she shares your religious beliefs.
    Rule 3: When death is imminent, gifts of food might not be appreciated, and large floral arrangements can actually be frightening.
    Rule 4: If possible, and you can deal with it, try to do something helpful. One friend of Mother's who was a former nurse would rub lotion on her hands, wash her face, etc. Another would read to her every day -- light reading only, please!
    Rule 5: When in doubt, the best thing to do is MAKE THAT VISIT. -- HEATHER IN BUENA VISTA, COLO.
    DEAR HEATHER: Thank you for your helpful suggestions. Although end-of-life issues can be hard to read about, let alone difficult to deal with, many readers offered to share personal experiences. Read on:
    DEAR ABBY: Some of my mother's most cherished last days were spent with friends who dropped by to visit. They brought stories about work, other friends and current events, and once beyond the "I'm sorry you're sick" sentiment, found ways to have normal conversations.
    The most cherished thing you can bring is your friendship, but calling ahead to see if there's anything the patient or caregiver needs would also be appreciated.
    My sisters and I will be forever grateful to the wonderful friends who made our mother's last days special. -- PROFOUNDLY GRATEFUL IN FORT COLLINS
    DEAR ABBY: In your response to "Wants to Reach Out," you said that hospice is not a place, but rather an at-home care program. That is not entirely correct. In addition to home care, there are hospice care facilities, and they provide a wonderful service to many families dealing with death.
    Our local facility has 12 rooms and daybeds in each one, so at least one of us was able to be with our father 24/7 during his final illness. Staff and volunteers were compassionate, gentle and professional. They were respectful to Dad and helped us in many ways.
    Our mother had hospice care at home 15 years ago, which helped us immeasurably, but the hospice care facility has taken the hospice concept to the next level and is worthy of all the positive attention that can be bestowed. The 12 rooms are "homier" than a hospital's, have cheery halls with beautiful memorials overlooking serene gardens, and open patios where pets can be brought.
    The wonderful hospice workers deserve our support for their ongoing ministry of kindness and comfort. -- SUSAN L., BRIDGETON, N.C.
    DEAR SUSAN: Thank you for correcting me. In my zeal to praise the services of in-home hospice care workers, I did neglect to mention that hospice can also be a place where terminal patients can be cared for when hospital treatment is no longer going to heal them.
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