Where Does Your Spiritual TripTik Take You?

Lee Ausema still remembers the conversation he had with the spouse of a patient the day after her husband of nearly seven decades had died.

The couple were “two peas in a pod” who did everything together until declining health prompted them to move into an assisted living facility in Grand Rapids. They took turns caring for one another as their health ebbed, with Ausema visiting them regularly as the chaplain for Emmanuel Hospice, until the husband slipped quietly away one Sunday afternoon.

“When I went in to see her the next day, I said, ‘You must have had a very difficult day yesterday,’ Ausema recalls. “She had tears in her eyes and a smile when she responded to me, ‘But just think where he is right now?’

“Sometimes our understanding of the afterlife can offer a tremendous sense of peace and grace during a difficult time. Even though they were married for decades, she could release her husband, and that gave her a sense of peace.

“A person’s faith is a place where they can go to not feel so alone. Within your faith, you can feel a sense of a companionship and love as your God is walking alongside you.”

There’s a big difference, Ausema notes, between being religious and being spiritual. He contends that all of us are spiritual beings, even if we may not ascribe to a particular religion.

As a faith-based provider of hospice services, Emmanuel Hospice serves the spiritual needs of all individuals. The spiritual care team counsels people of diverse faiths to help patients and their families find solace and strength in their individual faith traditions. Ausema sees it as his responsibility to meet people wherever they are on their individual spiritual journeys as they are facing the end of life.

“All of us have a spiritual TripTik,” Ausema says. “We all have some sense of where we started and where we are going to end. Each of us takes a different path for our journey, though.

“My role as chaplain is not to take my spiritual TripTik and put it over yours. Mine is to follow a person through his or her own journey. We all find a sense of peace and comfort in different places.”

Ausema often begins the conversation with a new hospice patient by doing an assessment of where they are spiritually. He will ask questions: Where do you go to find strength outside yourself? What are the things you do to find that strength that you cannot pull from yourself?

The answers are as individual as the patient. It might be music for one, attending church for another, meeting friends for a third or any variety of things, Ausema says, that give us a sense of peace and a sense of purpose.

“At Emmanuel Hospice, we honor everyone’s faith journey – whatever that may be and wherever they are on that journey.”

Ausema also asks new patients a question that many families find surprising: How do you want to live? It’s a misconception, he says, that hospice is all about dying. At Emmanuel Hospice, the care team works with families to enhance the quality of life at the end of life and ensure that every moment matters for the patient.

“For us, it really is about them and their needs,” Ausema noted. The next step, Ausema says, is working with the patient to determine what kinds of things bring them joy – and then finding ways to connect them with the things that make them smile and laugh. That might be a special dinner with family, a trip to a favorite fishing hole or afternoons filled with music.

“Even as we approach the end of life, we need to have things that keep us looking forward and anticipating,” Ausema says. “Think of it as being on a ship. There are some people who are comfortable sitting in the back of the ship and looking only at where they have been.

“There are others who are on the bow and don’t care where they have been, only where they are going. When you are in the pilot seat of your life, you have to listen to both voices. At the end of life, you can’t look to the future without embracing the past. Where we’ve been is an important aspect of where we’re going. On our end of life journey, our TripTik keeps going until we turn the final page – then we’re finally home.”

National Healthcare Decisions Day: A Time for Serious Talk

There are a lot of whimsical ways to celebrate April 16 – as “Eggs Benedict Day” and “Orchid Day” and even “Wear Your Pajamas To Work Day.”

But if you’re willing to get serious about what the last stage of your life might look like, you’ll want to recognize that date as “National Healthcare Decisions Day,” and plan a meaningful conversation around a topic too many of us ignore or put on perpetual hold.

“We look over something like our car insurance every six months because of something that might happen, but we spend very little time talking about something else that certainly will happen to all of us,” said Sara Lowe, executive director of Emmanuel Hospice. “The most important thing to do on National Healthcare Decision Day is to have a conversation about how you want to live.”

National Healthcare Decisions Day was instituted for that very purpose, founded a decade ago by a Virginia attorney who saw the value in creating awareness through a day dedicated to inspire, educate and empower the public and healthcare providers about the importance of advance care planning.

For Bob Eleveld and his family, having the conversation last Thanksgiving provided them the opportunity to honor the gregarious Grand Rapids lawyer’s life in an uncommon way – by throwing an end of life party for his friends before his death.

“We were in a restaurant in Seattle,” recalled his longtime partner, Michele McIsaac, “and you should have seen the look on the waitress’s face when Bob said ‘I want to talk about my funeral.’ ”

As it turned out, there was no funeral, but instead a huge party at Thousand Oaks Golf Club on March 18 that was attended by some 500. It was Bob’s intention to attend as well, but he grew too weak to muster the energy and died the next day.

Still, he was able to enjoy the gathering while still alive, through videos and notes of love and appreciation culled from the event and brought to his bedside that same evening.

Eleveld’s reason for bucking convention?

“He realized the difference between living, and being alive,” said McIsaac, emphasizing that her partner’s last wishes were put into place because the family made a deliberate decision to discuss it ahead of time.

“At the end of the day,” says Emmanuel’s Lowe, whose organization cared for Eleveld in his final days, “having a dialogue about what was important to Bob is what made his living until he died a reality.”

Lowe points out that there are organizations to support those talks, including one Emmanuel recommends called “Making Choices Michigan.” This nonprofit is committed to helping people discuss, decide and then document end-of-life choices in an “advance directive” that conveys those wishes in a legal document.

Without a conversation and ensuring directives in place, Lowe says a death can be compounded by loved ones trying to decipher what was written and elements that weren’t discussed ahead of time, with decisions disintegrating into a guessing game.

“When we work with families who have things clearly documented, when it comes time for decisions, it’s so much easier for them,” Lowe explained. “But without the conversation, it can be 10 times more difficult, and have a serious impact on the grieving process.”

For the Elevelds, Lowe noted, “Bob’s end of life celebration, amazing as it was, took place because of the conversation he had with people, and not just because of documents in place.”

McIsaac said that she and other family members heard comments from more than one of Bob’s friends who attended the party like “I wish we’d done this for my dad” and “I think I’d like to do something just like this, but on the golf course.”

Lowe said she’s overheard people talking about Bob’s party in restaurants and other public places, underscoring the importance of the ripple effect his final decision had on others.

“Bob wanted to live and die differently, in his own way,” Lowe said. “From our perspective, that’s a good day’s work for us when someone has a good death, when their choices aren’t made by accident.”

Having the conversation to kick-start the process wasn’t easy, McIsaac reflects, “but looking back now, we see how it allowed everyone to be on the same page, and that’s nothing less than a gift.”

April 16 is National Healthcare Decision Day. For more information, visit emmanuelhospice.org and makingchoicesmichigan.org.

Common Myths of Hospice Care

By Ryan Goodwin – Director of Community Outreach

As a faith-based, non-profit hospice ministry, Emmanuel Hospice is committed to community education, outreach, and service. Last year, we provided 52 educational seminars and met a countless number of amazing people in West Michigan. However, during these workshops, we heard many misconceptions regarding hospice care. So in this month’s blog, we wanted to shed some light on the four most common myths about hospice care.

#1 Myth – Hospice is a place.
Hospice care is provided in a patient’s home, wherever home may be. Whether that be a skilled nursing facility, retirement community, or a house of many years. The setting may change, but the hospice team comes to you to deliver expert, holistic care.

#2 Myth – All hospice providers are the same.

There are currently 17 hospice providers in the greater Grand Rapids area. There are many factors to consider when choosing a hospice provider. Are they a for-profit organization with a focus on ‘the bottom line?’ Does the company require a high caseload per staff member stretching their staff too thin? Does an accredited body certify them like CHAP(Community Health Accreditation Partner)? Can they understand your spiritual beliefs, whatever those may be?  Remember, it is YOUR choice who cares for you or your loved one; not a doctor, not a hospital, but you.

#3 Myth – Hospice makes decisions for you.

A quality hospice provider should always focus on your desires during this transition. They should review your medications and consult with you and your family about which ones you consider necessary. They should work with the doctor of your choice, not assign another doctor without speaking with you first. A quality hospice maintains levels of physical comfort, without you or your loved one losing cognitive function. They should understand your wishes, and then build your care plan around YOU.

#4 Myth – Hospice is a last resort

Hospice is a philosophy of care that focuses on comfort vs. cure. Many people do not want to spend their final days driving to and from a hospital. Many people do not want invasive treatments that only revolve around the quantity of life, as opposed to the quality of life. Emmanuel Hospice provides spiritual, mental, and physical guidance to families, in addition to those diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. This care can improve the lives of loved ones throughout an individual’s end-of-life journey.

We are providing this list as a stepping stone for your health care options. Emmanuel Hospice understands what a quality hospice provider should do for someone facing end-of-life decisions. If you or your loved one has a life-limiting illness, we know your journey may be full of uncertainty. Emmanuel Hospice is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer any questions you may have. Call 616.719.0919 or complete our contact form today.

Emmanuel Hospice Provides Five Wishes in Celebration of National Hospice Month

In recognition of how difficult it is for people to think about and discuss health care decisions, Emmanuel Hospice is distributing free copies of the nation’s most popular advance care planning resource, Five Wishes.

Five Wishes
allows individuals and families to make important decisions in terms that are meaningful and understandable to them and helps patients and families to more effectively communicate their decisions to health care providers. In addition to important medical issues, Five Wishes addresses matters of the heart and soul (comfort, family relationships, dignity, and spirituality) and encourages people to be specific about their intentions in their own words.

Emmanuel Hospice is celebrating National Hospice Month throughout the month of November by promoting the importance of thinking and talking about health care decisions well in advance of a severe illness or accident.

We are immersed in ‘what-if’ scenarios at Emmanuel Hospice. We know the trials and tribulations caused by unexpected events, and we feel we have an opportunity and obligation to our community to ease those burdens. This month we are celebrating National Hospice Month by identifying our obligations to our community by discussing advance care planning.

Our goal is to put 250 advance directives in the hands of our West Michigan neighbors in hopes of easing the uncertainties of emergency health-care situations. Our dream is to eliminate scenarios like a family feud when Mom or Dad is sent to the ER and everyone questions what the ‘best’ thing for their loved one should be. Or allow a loved one to obtain necessary health care coverage if someone is unable to do so themselves.
Or even carry out someone’s wishes regarding preferred life-support treatments. If we can eliminate just one of these similar scenarios, then all of our efforts are successful.

Currently, we are making great strides towards our goal. Please help us continue to spread the word!

If you or a loved one needs to have “the conversation”, please call us at 616-719-0919 for a free Five Wishes form today!