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Caring to the End: How Hospice Changes the Way We Die

Pancreatic cancer was supposed to kill Pauline Ramsey by last March. But it didn't. Instead, she survived to see another form of cancer take her younger sister, Kathy. It should have been me, she thought, lying in bed that cold March night.

Pauline, 75, knew she, too, would soon die and wondered why her body held out longer than Kathy's; why her own cancer, which was more aggressive, hadn't killed her. If Kathy had to go first, why did Pauline have to be so sick? Why was she robbed of this chance to support her sister?

Pauline was 10 years older, the big sister, but she never had much chance to act like one. They weren't close growing up, but that changed recently, and they knew their time was limited.

"Kathy, we didn't have enough time," Pauline told her during one of their last visits.

"We never will," Kathy replied.

These thoughts haunted Pauline for hours, pulling her out of sleep again and again. When morning came she didn't want to go downstairs, but her hospice aide, Nadege Filsaime, was due to visit, so she descended the stairs in blue pajamas, a Kleenex in hand.

"I didn't want to face the world today," she said. "At least my world."

Pauline's world was coming to an end, the former nurse knew that. She also knew she didn't want to spend her last days in a sterile hospital bed. No, Pauline wanted to die in her daughter's home, surrounded by family and tended by a hospice nurse and aide.

When Nadege arrived, she found Pauline in the dining room and wrapped her in a hug. Her skin, bright and dark, contrasted with Pauline's pale, bone-thin frame. She had been warned about Pauline's mood by Michelle Feeny, Pauline's daughter. Pauline moved in with Michele, "Shelley," when she entered hospice care in October 2015.

"She's gone," Pauline told Nadege, then asked the question everyone, at some point, will ask: "Is there something else? What is there?"

Nadege listened carefully, resting her chin in her hand, like a girlfriend comforting a friend.

"When somebody passed away, you think the person is hurt by dying? No," she said. "We are the ones hurt. There's no more pain, suffering. No more bills to pay. You're free. I look at it like it's a freedom."

In that brief exchange lies an example of how the way we die is changing.

To read the full article from the Reading Eagle, click here.

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