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Hospice Helps Patients With Final Journey

Tiffany Eckert

When a terminally ill patient decides to stop treatment or finds there are no other curative measures to take-- hospice is ordered. Often, the patient chooses to go home to die. As KLCC's Tiffany Eckert reports, hospice programs serve to alleviate fears and help the very sick on their final journey.

Rosalyn Morford is dying. She doesn't think it will be this week or even this month-- but she understands her cancer has spread and chemotherapy and other treatments didn't stop it. She entered hospice in May.

Morford: "I'm terminal (rasping breaths.) I mean I have it in my lungs, I have it in my liver, it's in all my bones."

Rosalyn has decided she will die at home. That means no more lengthy oncology visits or hospital rooms. PeaceHealth Sacred Heart hospice nurses come to her here—in a two-bedroom mobile home parked behind her brother's house in Cottage Grove.

Morford: "I don't feel death as a negative. It's a journey we all make. I'm kinda excited about it actually."

71-year old Rosalyn is a feisty woman. She used to be a nurse. She is quick with a laugh and she loves her little dog Susie who has enough energy for the both of them.

Today, hospice nurse Stacy Grigsby visits Rose. Grigsby has a gentle demeanor and a calm, reassuring voice. She says it's about providing comfort and dignity to a dying patient.

Grigsby:"Because it is a very personal process."

As death approaches, hospice nurses recognize the signs and help the patient and their family prepare for the experience.

Grigsby: "It's incredibly difficult work. It is very hard. We become very attached. But sometimes in life the hard things are the most rewarding…" (Rose says, "yep")

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Hospice nurse Stacy Grigsby travels to serve dying patients in their home.

"and that's just how it is. It's incredibly fulfilling to know that I made a difference, or to hope that I made a difference."

Sacred Heart has a volunteer-driven program called No One Dies Alone. It all started in 1988 when a night shift nurse named Sandra Clarke was doing her rounds.

Gordon: "One of her patients was dying. He was conscious and he knew he was dying and he was afraid."

That's Anne Gordon. She is the current director of the No One Dies Alone program.

Gordon: "He asked her to stay with him as he died. And she assured him that she would tend to her other patients, take care of them and then be back as soon as she could. She was able to come back within 90 minutes but he had died."

[He had died] alone.

Nurse Clarke was deeply affected by this and although it took years, she created a program with the support of Sacred Heart, to train staff and volunteers to sit vigil with the dying. Again Anne Gordon.

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Nancy Garrett (left) and Anne Gordon hold training materials for the No One Dies Alone program started at Sacred Heart in Eugene.

Gordon: "There are 10 of us, and we take turns throughout the year carrying a pager, 24 hours at a time."

Vigil Coordinators respond and quickly determine that the patient fits protocols which are: that the patient is within 48 hours of death, that there is a DNR or "Do Not Resuscitate" order, and most importantly…

Gordon: "That they have no one. They need to be someone who doesn't have anyone present to be with them as they are passing."  

No One Dies Alone programs are now international. (There are at least 50 volunteers trained in Sacred Heart's NODA program.)  Nancy Garrett was the first person trained to sit vigil at the hospital. I wondered if volunteers are told anything about the patient.

Garrett: "That's the one thing that is really so hard for me is not to know really anything about this patient, who they are. Once in a great while we do find out…We had one patient recently was a big fan- we found out- of Motley Crue.  And so we actually started playing some Motley Crue music so he could hear that when he passed."

(Motley Crue playing "Home Sweet Home")

(Transition to Harp music)

Credit Tiffany Eckert

Harpist Gary Plouff has seen how music works to soothe the sick and dying in prescriptive ways. He's a music-thanatologist with Strings of Compassion. And, he travels throughout Lane County to play his harp for hospice patients.

Plouff: "I feel very humbled to do this work and very privileged that I found it and I'm able to help people at their time at the end of their life."

Eckert: "Have you seen a lot of ends of lives?"

Plouff: "I have, over the 20 years, I've been there for many, many deaths. And that's also a very holy and sacred time for the family and for me too to supply that music and make the atmosphere more peaceful."

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Gary Plouff (left) plays his harp for Strings of Compassion.

Hospice patient Rosalyn Moreford is approaching the holidays pragmatically. She is finishing quilts which will go to her children. She says she's been "visited" by her late husband, Don. Sometimes she sees him in shadows.

Morford:"But the one night, I'd kinda had a rough night and I felt the side of the bed sink down and I felt him slide in beside me, put his arm over me and I could hold his hand. It was him! And I cried because I didn't want him to leave. But he did... And he'll be back."

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Before she dies, Rosalyn will give her quilts to her children.

Rosalyn has decided she will be cremated. She is taking care of everything in advance, the funeral home, the urn, to spare her brother having to do it.

I asked her if she is afraid.

Morford: "No. What would you be afraid of?  You tell me and I'll think about it. (laugh) But no, I'm not afraid. I'm in God's hands. I'll always be there for the kids. I may even haunt them. I've threatened. (Laugh.)"

Reporters Note: Rosalyn Morford died in hospice care on January 26, 2016.




Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.
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