The Solace in the Storm

by Rhonda Osborne, Chief Executive Officer

Storm rolling in at the beach.I am at the beach.  This is a place of solace for me – one of beautiful views, warm breezes, sun on my face, toes in the sand while listening to the powerful breaking waves.  Today, it is raining, lightning and thundering.  Not much solace…or is there?  This beautiful place works as a metaphor of life.  I have been blessed with a loving family, a career that is not a job, and know that I have eternal life ahead due to one significant decision of asking Christ to be my Savior.  However, even with those wonderful blessings of life there can be, and will be, storms even in a beautiful life.  Divorce, death, loss of relationships because of variety of acts, sickness, hurt and on and on.  But, in the midst of this thunder and lightning, I find peace just sitting on the balcony.  It is the same view of a powerful sea, same sand, same breeze…..just different.  So, I just sit on the balcony with a cup of coffee and a good book.  And I am still….”be still and know that I am God” Psalms 46:10.

I love this verse but being still is a challenge for me.    In high school, I was sent to remedial reading because I had scored poorly in reading comprehension. After some observation and further testing, I was told that I was never still.  I either jiggled my foot, tapped my fingers or whatever the smallest movements were distracted my brain from comprehension.  The way it was explained to me was that when I am moving and reading, my brain has to work in two ways….control that movement and read and comprehend the words.  Therefore, I had to practice and focus on being still.  When I did, my comprehension scores improved.  Even now, when I am still I am not necessarily focused. I may be still but have the TV on or be reading a book or may be scrolling Facebook.

Today, at the beach, I put my book aside, even if for a few minutes, and just listened. Yes, I listened to those crashing waves and the rolls of thunder and the occasional squawk of a seagull but I wanted to hear what God had to say.

I am at the beach because I am in a season of a life storm.  It has been a life-changing two months in my life.  My mother died.  As a hospice professional, I thought I was prepared for her home-going.  In some ways I was.  What I was not prepared for was for my earthly relationship with her to be gone.  I miss her.  There are other family illnesses – not as serious but still stressful.

The beach and the sound of the powerful ocean (or gulf) are tranquil to me.  When I listened to that still small voice, I was reminded that God is with me, still or not still, during times of peace or times of storms.  When I am still, His presence is powerful and peaceful.

I hope to learn to be still and know.

What Great Love!

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

Pregnant Mom With Hand on StomachNew parents all over the world dream of a beautiful, healthy newborn.  Imagine parents who get the news late in the pregnancy their baby will likely live only a few hours, if she survives delivery, due to multiple deformities – each considered a lethal condition.  That is exactly what transpired in a story I read recently on Focus on the Family’s website as I was doing some research on perinatal hospice.

In this story, the parents were told, “You will have some choices to make.”  With a firm belief in the sanctity of human life, the parents decided to continue the pregnancy “until the Lord’s appointed time.”  Even though this story does not mention perinatal hospice, what this family did in preparation for a baby that would be born dying was a pathway toward healing in the midst of anticipatory grief.  The family was intentional about making memories while their baby was still in utero – they went to Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World, to the ballet, to the zoo, to the symphony, and to the beach.  And when the appointed time for the birth arrived, they were given two-and-a-half hours with their precious baby before she passed away.  They took photos and had their other three daughters take turns holding her and “unabashedly loving and caring for her.”  All of these things are concepts included in perinatal hospice care.

One of goals of the Shepherd’s Cove Foundation is to expand services to include perinatal hospice.  Foundation Director Annah Grace Morgan stated, “Very simply, we have a great need for perinatal hospice in our community. I wish this need didn’t exist, but those who have experienced this loss know all too well how much support is needed, although often this care is not available. I feel that it is absolutely our duty to provide this type of care. As a community, we should be providing this type of support to those who need it most.”

I, personally, could not agree more.

The parents in this story displayed great love in bringing a child into this world knowing she had a terminal diagnosis.  The family chose to celebrate her life, even in the short time they had with her.  The end result is the family will never forget those two-and-a-half hours.  You, too, can display great love by supporting our efforts to include a perinatal hospice program.  If you can see the stark beauty of this story, and the need for perinatal hospice care, please consider partnering with us. Follow this link for more information.

Redefining Hope

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

HOPE CompassHere at Shepherd’s Cove Hospice, we come up against a lot of myths.  There are some real doozies out there.  One we hear often is, “Hospice means giving up hope.”  That is a completely understandable myth/misconception because hospice care is directly related to terminal illnesses.  But making a decision for hospice care does not mean you are giving up hope.  Hospice redefines hope and helps patients and their families reclaim the spirit of life.  Hospice care focuses on improving the patient’s quality of life, allowing them to make the most of the time they have remaining.

Hospice helps patients and families find new hope and meaning in their lives as care goals turn from cure to comfort.  Hope, therefore, is discovered in the journey.  It might be redefining your expectations day by day or even moment by moment.  Hope, for a moment, may be seeing a smile, sharing a hug, or hearing “I love you” one last time.

I recently happened upon an article written in the New York Times in 2009 entitled, “Talking Frankly at the End of Life.”  In this article, Dr. Pauline Chen discusses her personal journey through her mother-in-law’s terminal illness.  Throughout this journey, Dr. Chen explored how better end-of-life care doesn’t dash hope but restores it by ensuring the best possible quality of life for the patient.  The article mentions a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined how end-of-life care discussions with terminal patients affected their quality of life and that of their caregivers.  Chen spoke with Dr. Alexi Wright, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and one of the lead authors of the article, regarding interviews conducted with terminal patients and their caregivers.  Chen stated,

I asked Dr. Wright if telling patients that they were dying might take away hope. “In trying to emphasize only the positive, we can end up with a misguided sense of hope,” Dr. Wright responded. “I think it’s really important to define hope more broadly. Hope is in the life we live, in our families. When I meet patients with incurable cancer, I hope they live as long as they can and with the best quality of life they can have…”

For many terminally ill patients, hope can take on a new meaning, a renewed sense of appreciation of life and its simple pleasures. As hospice patients learn to live with dying, they are given the opportunity to become more fully alive in the present moment – their hope is redefined.  The time the patients and family/caregivers have remaining can be filled with deep love, grace, and a newfound definition of hope.

Why asking a “Dumb” Question is Really Smart

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

We have all heard the phrase, “Remember, there are no dumb questions.”  We all know that is not 100% true.  There really are dumb questions – we are all familiar with that eye-roll, jaw-drop response at some of the questions that have been posed either to us, or by us.  However, there is great truth to the cliché that the dumbest question is the one you don’t ask.

Sometimes we don’t ask questions out of fear, right?  Fear that we really will appear dumb.  Sure, questions can be a sign that you don’t understand something. But you cannot possibly gain understanding if you don’t ask questions.  Other times we don’t ask questions because we think we don’t have a “good question.”  However, we should keep in mind that, oftentimes, there are other people in the audience who want to ask the very same question but were afraid to do so.  So, learn to ask without fear…just ask the questions that are on your mind.

Carl Sagan, a renowned astrophysicist and author once said, “…every question is a cry to understand the world.”  Understanding some things in the world is tough…I mean really tough.  Some topics are just difficult to broach – especially those related to life planning and end-of-life issues (e.g. advance directives, last will and testament, power of attorney, etc.).  But sometimes we have to broach the subject and sometimes we have to ask questions.  It is better to do so now, rather than later.

The Planned Giving Council of Shepherd’s Cove Hospice is hosting an event entitled, Getting Your Affairs in Order: A Safe Place to ask Dumb Questions on June 13th from 5 – 7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Albertville.  Please join us for this event.  It will be the perfect opportunity for you to overcome your fear of seeming dumb and allow you to get to the heart of relevant issues that need to be discussed.

Getting Your Affairs in Order event flyer

Relief

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

Relief is a soothing word, is it not?  By definition, it means: 1) a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress; 2) assistance given to those in special need or difficulty; 3) a person or group of people replacing others who have been on duty.

I can tell you from a personal perspective the word “relief” is meaningful because I have recently experienced the first definition (above).  I submitted my very last college assignment a couple of weeks ago – the last one for the purposes of grading prior to my impending graduation.  I swear, when I hit that submit button, I think the heavens opened up and I heard the Hallelujah Chorus being sung by ten thousand angels.  I was literally overwhelmed with a sense of relief.

There was nothing like that feeling.  Relief came in knowing I had released all of the anxiety and distress I had been experiencing for my last semester in college.  Relief came in knowing EVERYTHING needed to graduate and earn my degree was submitted…finished…all done…no more.  It was a surreal moment.  It did not even seem possible that I had completed my internship.  It did not seem possible that I was going to graduate.  It did not seem possible I would be walking across a stage to receive my Bachelor’s Degree.  But it was possible.  I really was done.  The sense of relief was quickly followed by a sense of awe. As a matter of fact, I was overcome by emotion to the point that crying turned into sobbing – I mean an ugly cry that caused my shirt to be wet with tears.  I would say that was a pretty powerful sense of relief, wouldn’t you?

I know another powerful form of relief that comes in the essence of definitions 2 and 3 above.  Definition number 2 applies to our patients and their families and number 3 applies to caregivers needing respite.  I realize definition number 1 often applies to our patients/families/caregivers, as well, but numbers 2 and 3 really seem to hit the proverbial nail on the head.

Our ultimate goal at Shepherd’s Cove Hospice is to make patients and their families feel better, and that is where we turn back to the word “relief.”  We provide care and assistance to those in special need or difficulty – that is just a part of our ongoing care model.  But we also can be that “person or group of people replacing others who have been on duty” when it comes to providing respite care in our inpatient unit.  For example, speaking of graduations, suppose someone has a beloved family member under our care in their home, but they also have a son/daughter/grandson/granddaughter graduating from high school or college soon. They would not want to miss that treasured milestone.  What can they do?  How do they make sure their loved one is properly care for while also attending a graduation ceremony?  One great answer would be to bring the patient into our inpatient unit for respite care.

Respite care simply means “taking a break.”  Respite care is provided at the Shepherd’s Cove Hospice inpatient unit for a stay of up to 5 days at a time.  The inpatient unit can assist in providing a safe, comfortable environment for the patient.  If you are a caregiver and want desperately to attend an upcoming graduation, wedding, or other joyous occasion, respite care may be the best option.  If you need additional information, please give us a call at 256-891-7724.  Remember, we are available 24/7.

The Amazing Mr. Beam

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

Sometimes real-life stories are far better than anything that can be written by authors of fiction.  The book, “The Amazing Mr. Beam” is one of those real-life, completely enchanting examples.  As I have thumbed through the book on various occasions, I find myself caught up in the charming stories of the real-life Mr. Beam.  If you need a really good belly-laugh, you absolutely MUST read this book.

“The Amazing Mr. Beam” is a quirky, fun-loving book written by local real estate broker-turned-author Greg Henderson.  Mr. Henderson spins the tales of the adventures Mr. Beam gets caught up in and literally captivates you, as the audience.  You feel as if you are right there, taking in every moment of Mr. Beam’s locally famous exploits.  I rolled with laughter as I read, “Mr. Beam and The Breakfast Buffet” found on page 67.  The story takes place on a family vacation in Kauai, Hawaii.  Allow me to share an excerpt from the story:

And then it happened.  It was like the heavens opened up, and the sun shone down on the bread, pastry, and sweet section of the bar.  Mr. Beam just stood there for a moment, unable to take it all in.  It reminded those who witnessed it of Ralphie in A Christmas Story when his eyes captured the vision of the Red Ryder BB gun, except instead of worrying about shooting your eye out, Mrs. Beam began warning Mr. Beam about the dangers of overindulging and being sick. It was too late; the words fell on deaf ears (literally).

Mr. Beam was off in a flash, piling his plate with breakneck speed and craftsmanlike precision. Not another morsel could be contained on the plate, one of many to come. As a matter of fact, the first plate was so heavy that it took both hands to carry the load, and he was short of breath when he reached the table. Fortunately, he found enough air to begin the onslaught―beginning with pancakes covered with guava jelly and mango syrup, then a two-egg omelet and slices of bacon, and continuing with pastries, topping them with syrup and jellies as well. It was machinelike. No birds even got close to Mr. Beam at this open-air restaurant overlooking the pool with the ocean in the near distance, fearing their next flapping of wings could be their last with fork tines stopping them in midflight…

I have to leave you in suspense as to how the story ended.  I think you simply need to purchase the book.  And if you need an additional nudge, on the back of the book, it is written, “What do the Secret Service, Detroit Lions, TSA, and a large husband of a beautiful hula dancer have in common?  They all want answers from the seemingly innocent Mr. Beam.”  This book makes my heart smile.  And, as if the smiles and belly-laughs were not enough to entice a purchase, Mr. Henderson is donating $10 of the proceeds from the sale of each book to the Shepherd’s Cove Hospice Foundation.  He will even sign your copy if you would like to join us on May 9 from 4 – 6 p.m. for the book signing.  This event will be hosted here at Shepherd’s Cove Hospice in our Community Room located at 408 Martling Road in Albertville.  Please stop by and pick up your copy.  We look forward to seeing you.

The Amazing Mr. Beam Book Signing Flyer

The Power of a Story – Last Wishes Can Become Realities

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

I was driving down the road the other day and a news story came on the radio that made tears well up in my eyes.  When you work for a hospice agency, some stories just seem to hit home more so than others.  This particular story was about a physician from Nebraska who was in the final stages of colon cancer who feared he would not make it to see his son graduate from high school in May, or his daughter get married in June.

In his hometown of St. Paul, Nebraska, his family and friends, along with people from the local school, church, and hospital, came together to make a way for this man, lovingly referred to as “Dr. Dan,” to see both a graduation ceremony and a wedding ceremony on the same day.

I was struck by the story.  You see, stories impact our hearts and touch us in ways, and in areas, that nothing else can reach.  This story is like one of many we have experienced here at Shepherd’s Cove Hospice.  We, too, have been a part of seeing last wishes fulfilled – some on a grand scale such as an airplane ride or a NASCAR adventure, with others on a smaller scale such as being able to see a granddaughter play basketball, or being able to drive over a newly constructed bridge in your home community.  Whether great or small, each of these wishes mean something to the person who is facing the end of life.  Furthermore, these wishes leave lasting legacies for the families that are touched by the outpouring of love and support that it takes to make a last wish come to pass.

Right now, Shepherd’s Cove Hospice is in the process of trying to make a last wish a reality for a family. A family whose mother is ill and wants one thing before she leaves this life, and that is to make some memories with her children.  She wants them to remember something fun and positive rather than only being left with memories of their mother’s illness, doctor’s office visits and medical treatments.

You can make a difference!  You can help make this wish a reality.  Our Foundation has set up a Fundly page for this family’s “Memory Trip.”  Would you prayerfully consider making this trip – this last wish – come true for this family?

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month – How do we make a difference?

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

Some observances are ones you wish you did not have to mark. With nearly 700,000 children victimized every year by physical, mental, or sexual abuse, National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April is one of those observances.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau (2017) – Child Maltreatment 2015 report, there were an estimated 4 million referrals made to Child Protective Services, alleging maltreatment involving approximately 7.2 million children in the U.S.  Key findings in the report include:

  • The national estimate of children who received a child protective services investigation response or alternative response increased 9.0 percent from 2011 (3,081,000) to 2015 (3,358,000).
  • The number and rate of victims have fluctuated during the past 5 years. Comparing the national estimate of victims from 2011 (658,000) to the rounded number of reported victims in 2015 (683,000) shows an increase of 3.8 percent.
  • Three-quarters (75.3%) of victims were neglected, 17.2 percent were physically abused, and 8.4 percent were sexually abused.
  • For 2015, a nationally estimated 1,670 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.25 per 100,000 children in the national population.

Child abuse and neglect is one of the Nation’s most serious concerns.  But what about the state of Alabama?  In the report, noted above, there were a total of 22,067 referrals made to CPS in 2015.  So what can you do to make a difference? Join us on April 7, at 10:00 a.m. to hear Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall speak on the topic of child abuse prevention. With the proper knowledge, tools, and awareness, community members can work together to prevent child abuse and neglect. And maybe someday, we won’t have to observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

 

Tempest Tossed

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

Recently, I ran upon an a-l-m-o-s-t insurmountable obstacle in my path.  I say almost, because when I thought all hope was lost, when I thought it was impossible and I would never find my way through – God showed up, BIG!  Someday I will have the time to sit down and write my entire testimony of how God orchestrated my life in phenomenal ways.  But for today, I want to talk about the lyrics of a song that were dropped into my spirit. “When upon life billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged thinking all is lost.  Count your many blessings every doubt will fly, and you will be singing as the days go by.”

Do you recognize these words from an old familiar hymn?  Yes, they are indeed from the song, “Count Your Blessings” penned by Johnson Oatman, Jr.  The words to this hymn began to flow from my heart as I realized exactly what God had done for me.  Even though everything in my life did not work out according to my plan, and my timeline, it worked out according to His in order that He would be glorified.  And trust me, I give Him all honor, glory and praise for the miracle He performed on my obstacle – which, by the way, was not even as large as a grain of sand to Him.

And, if you have read very many of my blog posts, you know how events that happen in my own life often cause me to turn my thoughts to the patients and families we serve.  So, as I looked at the remaining lyrics for this old hymn, what I found was a story of pain, conflict, and confusion that turned into a song of praise and thanksgiving to our Lord.

In the last verse of the song, Oatman penned these words, “So amid the conflict, whether great or small, do not be discouraged, God is over all; count your many blessings, angels will attend, help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.”  THAT!  That is the part that struck me, in the very core of my heart for our patients and their loved ones.  I believe there are angels that attend to our care.  I believe they comfort us to our journey’s end.  And sometimes, our patients and their caregivers even refer to our staff as “angels on earth.”  WOW!  What a compliment.  We have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of God.  We have the opportunity to serve patients in their most intimate moments – often even in their last breath.  In that, I find great comfort because I know our heart is one of service.  What a privilege and honor it is to be entrusted with the care of those who are precious and beloved – to care for someone else’s blessing, which in turn becomes a blessing for us.

If you thought you were dying, what would matter most?

Shepherd’s Cove Hospice will be hosting free screenings of the PBS program “Being Mortal” on March 22 at 11:30 a.m. in our community room (located at 408 Martling Road in Albertville) and on March 29 at 11:30 a.m. at the Gadsden Senior Center (located at 623 Broad Street in Gadsden).  This film offers an opportunity for us, as a community, to explore the question, “Have you and your family had the tough conversations and planned ahead?”

In “Being Mortal,” FRONTLINE follows renowned New Yorker writer and Boston surgeon Atul Gawande as he explores the relationships doctors have with patients who are near the end of life.  In conjunction with Gawande’s new book, Being Mortal, the film investigates the practice of caring for the dying and delves into the hopes of patients and families facing terminal illness. In the film, Dr. Atul Gawande shares stories from the people and families he encounters.

When Dr. Gawande’s own father gets cancer, his search for answers about how to best care for the dying becomes a personal quest.  The documentary tells his story, as he is learning to think about death and dying in the context of being a healer. By sharing stories from the perspective of both physicians and the people and families he encounters, including his own, the documentary sheds new light on how our system – so often focused on a cure – neglects the important conversations that need to happen so that a person’s true priorities can be known and honored at the end.

The Hospice Foundation of America stated, “The stories in Being Mortal show us the value of shared decision making in medicine at the end of life and illustrate the importance of thinking and planning ahead as we reflect on what matters to us most. The stories further reveal the human side of physicians, whose own vulnerabilities, fears and lack of training may impede timely and open discussions with patients.”

After the screening, you will have an opportunity to participate in a guided conversation on how to take concrete steps to identify and communicate wishes about end-of-life goals and preferences. Lunch will be provided for the first 50 people to register, courtesy of sponsor Howard Bentley.  Members of the Shepherd’s Cove Hospice Planned Giving Council will also be on hand until 3:30 that afternoon for one-on-one consultations.

See this moving documentary, join the conversation, and explore what matters to you. RSVP by contacting Malarie Allen at 256-891-7724 or gro.e1498553267vocsd1498553267rehpe1498553267hs@ne1498553267llam1498553267.

All are welcome. We hope to see you there!