Hollie Grimaldi Flores: For Danny | TheUnion.com

Hollie Grimaldi Flores: For Danny

Danny. That was his name. My friend. My friend who was diagnosed with stage four cancer and given six months to live. He died. It was not six months, but six years before cancer won. He responded to treatment so well, for so long, that I let myself believe he might be the exception, the one that got away with it. The one that won the fight. He was not. As it turns out, no one gets out of here alive. It’s already been over a month since we said goodbye. Me with a parting hug and an “I love you.” Him with a “See you on the other side.”

After so many years of remission and positive responses to treatments, it was incredibly hard for me to believe he would not pull through when he got the first “bad scan” in February. I minimized the fear and found some plausible theory that his body was reacting to something else. When he got another poor result a few months later, and started another form of treatment, I became a bit more concerned. By August, a good friend, who happens to be a hospice nurse, sat me down to tell me, to make me see, that he was not going to get better. There was some discussion about talking to the good people at Hospice of the Foothills to see about getting him connected with their palliative care program.

As stated on the National Institute on Aging website, “Patients in palliative care may receive medical care for their symptoms, along with treatment intended to cure their serious illness. Palliative care is meant to enhance a person’s current care by focusing on quality of life for them and their family.”

I could see the toll his illness was taking — not only on him, but on his immediate family as well. When I asked him about connecting to the palliative care program, he resisted. He said taking that step felt like giving up. I was adamant that he was wrong. Seeking services such as those provided by Hospice of the Foothills was, in my mind, a way to get some support and respite for his immediate caregivers. It was about the quality of time he had left. It would be the selfless thing to do. What I did not realize, was that it is not simply making the decision and then making a phone call. There is a process to getting connected to the services and it can take a bit of time.

For my friend, when he was finally ready to make the call for palliative care, the disease had progressed too far for that to be an option. He went straight to the front of the line.

Once people learned he was “on hospice,” a parade of friends began calling and visiting him at home. Loved ones from near and far came to pay their respects and say their goodbyes. Forgiveness was abundant. As was the outpouring of love. That process was exhausting — not only for my friend who was transitioning out of this life, but to his family and caregivers as well.

In our society, being on hospice is a screaming banner that reads, “The end is near.” In reality, the care provided by hospice staff and volunteers can go on for months, but more often, by the time the call is made, as in this case, the person in need of those services is nearing their final stages. They suffer when they need not suffer.

Our small community nonprofit hospice may have as many as 100 patients under their care at any given time. That is a lot of home visits, phone calls, medical equipment, education and compassion to dole out.

I say this now because it was not something I had really thought out. I imagined once the decision was made to focus on the quality of life left, one phone call was made and within an hour someone would magically be at the door. Pretty unrealistic, I know, but I had really only focused on what care would be offered, not how quickly or how long it might take to happen.

Being on hospice means help with pain and help with managing symptoms. There is an educational component in understanding the process of dying they can share with the family. They come with medical equipment, medication, instruction, and the calm experience of having seen this process. There is spiritual support and grief counseling and probably most importantly, there is respite for the primary care giver – often the surviving spouse or other family member. However, that primary care giver is literally still doing the “heavy lifting” — administering medication, taking care of feeding, grooming, and dealing with biological function. It is not an easy task. It is not an easy ask.

Once treatment was no longer an option, my dear friend went quickly. He was not in pain. He had the good fortune to be lucid to his last day, enjoying visits and conversations nearly to the end. He was no longer afraid; just sad to be leaving so soon. There were few words left unspoken. He was able to leave with few regrets … maybe one more trip to the beach would have been nice. He did say dying was not any fun and once he surrendered, he was gone. Just. Like. That.

As a culture, we get a failing grade when it comes to the subject of dying. We are all going to die and yet we barely talk about it. We don’t plan for it. We leave those left behind with incredibly painful decisions to make when they really are not in a state to be making any decisions at all.

Danny. My friend. The one with cancer, had time to let us know what he wanted to have happen after he passed, and his wishes have been granted.

My wish is that we all address and plan for the inevitable. It’s the kindest thing we can do for the ones we leave behind.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com

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