Hospice House: My Daughter’s Place of Comfort, Peace, and Beauty
by Debbie Berry
On Mother’s Day 2012, my 33 year old daughter was once again taken over by horrific pain. The cancer she had been battling for 3 1/2 years was showing no mercy. We went back to the emergency room with her doubled over and begging for the pain to stop. She was admitted and on May 18th my daughter was told that there was nothing more the doctors could do for her. Those words, and the look in her eyes, will forever haunt me. She had fought so hard, endured unspeakable pain and many weeks in the hospital. She never once gave up hope that she might beat the cancer and see her children grow up.
Kylee made the decision to go to Hospice with the intention of getting the pain under control and going home to be with family. The whole time the plans were being made, I was screaming inside saying No! If she does, she is going to die. Hospice is The House of Death and I don’t want her around all those dying people. What if she gives up the fight? We have a very strong faith and believed that God would not take such a young, beautiful mother. I never voiced my fears, my job as her mother was simply to be there, to comfort and give strength. Just before the ambulance arrived to transport her to the Hospice House, I sat there looking at her as she slept.
Machines beeping, needles in her arms, telephones ringing, alarms going off, the sound of nurses talking and laughing. I wondered how they can act like nothing is going on. What is my daughter thinking as she lies there knowing that she only has weeks to live? I spent many, many, many hours in a chair in hospital rooms, and wondered how a sick person ever gets any peace or rest in these places. You can’t open a window or hear your voice over the hundreds of noises happening around the clock. So many times I wanted to holler, Can’t you see my child is sick and needs rest! But I never did.
Fast Forward. The very first words my daughter shared with me after she had been settled in her hospice room was, “Mom, you’re going to really like the Doctor here. He told me that he can help with this pain”. We were given a tour of the house. I was amazed at how beautiful, peaceful and quiet is was. The nurses and CNA’s (Certified Nursing Assistant) looked you in the eye, smiled and were always asking if there was anything we needed. Kylee’s room was like being home; a large window that you could open, bird feeders, squirrels, turkeys and even a raccoon could be seen out her window. And her pain was kept under control!
She was able to join friends and family in the dinning room and go outside with her children. Her room would, at times, have ten people in it, all laughing, crying, hugging, playing games and making beautiful memories. Her father and I never left her alone. We lived there with her. Many nights my husband would sit in the big comfortable chair facing her bed doing crossword puzzles with her, or video taping her reading stories to her children, so they would have them when she was no longer here. Not once did it feel like we were living in a house of death, but instead, a house of comfort, peace, beauty.
Her days started changing, her body growing weaker, and she was sleeping more. Two days before she passed, I finally accepted that my girl was not going to be here with us much longer. I had to leave her room so she didn’t see my tears. I walked outside and walked along the beautiful path that is behind the house. No sounds of traffic, just the sounds of life and the cycle of nature taking place.
I returned to her room. The doctor was outside her door. He looked us in the eye, telling us, “I don’t think it will be long now” and how sorry he was. As I looked at him all I saw was sincere kindness and very caring eyes. My daughter was right, I did like him! For the first time in 3 1/2 years my daughter was not in pain.
That night, I lay on the couch watching my daughter sleep (I spent many nights watching her sleep) and I heard the most amazing music outside her door. Then someone singing like an angel. I thought to myself how grateful I was that my daughter was hearing those sounds, as she was lying there, slowly making peace with her death.
On June 2nd, Kylee stopped talking. Our family took turns holding her hand and rubbing her forehead throughout the night. She passed the next morning. My daughter passed with the most peaceful look on her face; no pain, no fear, no beeping, no alarms. We were allowed all the time we needed to call people, to sit with her as long as we needed. I left that day, the last place I ever saw my girl.
It’s been seventeen months since she earned her wings. There have been many “what ifs”. Many I wish I had said this or said that. But the one thing I will never regret is the final days of my daughter’s life; the love, comfort and peacefulness at the Hospice House. I know my daughter would not have been able to have passed with such grace and peace if she had been in a hospital. For that reason I am so grateful to everyone involved with Hospice and for all they do to give back life ~ even in death.
In the past 17 months, I have gone back to school, became a CNA, and a Hospice Volunteer. I’m determined to honor my daughter’s life by giving back to an organization that gave our family so much in my daughter’s final days. I don’t see Hospice now as a place of death ~ but of love. I am honored to sit, hold a dying person’s hand, wipe their forehead, and sit quietly as they leave this world with the sounds of beautiful music, birds singing and an angel candle softly glowing beside their bed.
Today, I hope my words, and those of others that you have heard speak today, have shown you how very important Hospice is and that our loved ones deserve to live till they die. Take a moment, think about how you would want your last days, or your loved ones last days to be spent. We are all going to leave this earth one day or say goodbye to a loved one. Thinking about death is very hard, I know.
If you were given three weeks to live, where would you want to spend it? I don’t think anyone in this room would choose a hospital. If you have never been to the Hospice House, I invite you to come. I will walk the path with you, sit while you listen to the harp playing, show you the handmade, stained glass door, and the mobile with hundreds of paper cranes. You will meet some of the kindest, gentlest people you have ever met, and maybe you can even share a cup of coffee with a Hospice patient in the dinning room or play a game of chess with them.
About the author, in her own words: I’m a 55 years old, Hospice CNA, grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren, married for 36 years, Mother to a beautiful daughter on earth, and one in Heaven. Keeper of my daughter’s memories. Our daughter died on our wedding anniversary on June 3rd. I love to write, read, and run a small Hugs From Heaven business making Forever Teddy Bears from loved ones clothing that have passed. I am the president of The Keepin On Foundation that my daughter and I formed weeks before she died. I am doing all I can to make a difference in this world as my daughter asked me to, by not letting anger take over my life, but instead loving, giving more and working each day to find God’s plan on this grieving journey.
Kylee L. Gendron, 33, of Lewiston went to be with her Lord and Savior Sunday morning June 3, 2012 at the Hospice House of Androscoggin with her family by her side after a courageous battle with cancer. Kylee was born in Waterville on Oct. 22, 1978 the daughter of Joseph C. Berry and Deborah D. (Reynolds) Berry. She was a graduate of Maine Central Institute Class of 1997. On January 10, 2003 she married Todd M. Gendron.
Kylee enjoyed writing, reading, softball, volunteering at various venues in the community and being at camp on Taylor Pond with friends and family. Her greatest joy in life was being a mother to her children, Joey and Jessie.
She will be remembered as a person who accomplished many things and touched countless people with her infectious smile, kind words, and unfailing faith. Kylee lived her life with grace, love, laughter, strength, and courage during the eye of the storm. Many tears will drop for years to come, but with a smile and a sparkle in her eye, Kylee would tell each of us to KEEP ON-KEEPIN’ ON – excerpt from Kylee’s obituary.