Granting hospice patients’ last wishes

Caring for communities

When nearing the end of life, some hospice patients have last wishes that they hope to experience during their final days.

For some, these last wishes include attending big life events such as a granddaughter’s graduation. For others, last wishes can be simple yet meaningful expressions of love like wanting to spend time with their family during their last days.

At Enhabit Home Health & Hospice, we care about learning what matters most to each patient and building care plans around that, regardless of what the patient’s last wish may be.

Oklahoma team grants two hospice patients’ last wishes

In 2023, one Enhabit team in Oklahoma had the opportunity to assist with not one, but two patients’ last wishes. Although a special occurrence, the team regularly helps hospice patients’ wishes come true.

“I try to ask my patients if there is anything that our team can do to help them,” Enhabit nurse Michelle said. “Sometimes, we aren’t able to grant last wishes because we don’t have patients on service for long enough or the logistics aren’t possible. However, we try to have it be a part of what we can do for patients because it can really make a difference during the end of their life.”

And make a difference it did for hospice patient Anna.

Once a dancer, always a dancer

Hospice patient Anna grew up as a dancer, waltzing her way into adulthood. It brought her joy to express herself through movement. Yet, she never had the opportunity to dance the night away at her high school prom.

Decades passed and Anna lost her spark for dancing due to her life’s circumstances. And then she was faced with the news that she only had a few days left to live.

After starting service with the hospice team at Enhabit, she said she felt sad about her prognosis and that there was just one thing she wished to do in her final days – waltz again.

Patient’s last wish turns into a full facility prom

The Enhabit team contacted Anna’s facility and quickly decided they wanted to throw her a prom.

“We talked to her about it and made sure it was something she wanted to do,” Michelle said. “She was just overwhelmed with excitement and she kept saying ‘I never even went to prom.’”

Knowing Anna’s prognosis, the team had to work quickly to throw the dance. The volunteer coordinator talked with a dance studio to find an instructor or student to do the waltz with her; the sales team got her a dress; the facility director did her hair and makeup; and the home health aide got her a tiara and flowers.

“On the day of the dance when she got in her dress, her eyes lit up and she was just so excited,” Michelle said. “With her dress, corsage and hair and makeup, you could tell she felt like a queen for the day. She even cried.”

Knowing her family would love to see the excitement again in Anna, the team coordinated with her loved ones so they could be there. Other facility residents showed up dressed to the nines and just like that, they threw a dance for her.

Despite Anna’s short prognosis, she ended up living six more months. She used every opportunity to relive her memories of the dance.

“This was a woman who had been told you have 2-3 days to live and we all feel like throwing this dance did prolong her life because it gave her such joy and happiness,” Michelle said. “She talked about it constantly, exclaiming it was the best thing ever because she’d never been able to go to prom before. She was even trying to organize another dance for the facility before she passed away.”

Thanks to the Enhabit team, Anna finally got to attend prom – this time as the prom queen.

Good food, better company

Although a hospice patient is nearing the end of their life, they are still the same person with the same hobbies and interests, as before their diagnosis. For hospice patient Shannon, her hobbies and interests revolved around food.

“Food was everything to her,” Michelle said. “I would bring her little treats because she loved to eat. And when I asked her what one thing we could do to make her happy during her end-of-life journey, she said she would love to go to lunch.”

Shannon was Lebanese and she loved to cook and eat Lebanese food. But due to her condition, she hadn’t left her house for six months.

“She always told us that in return for the care we provided for her, she was going to pay us back by fixing everyone Lebanese food someday,” Michelle said. “So, I talked to our volunteer coordinator and Shannon’s granddaughter. We found the restaurant she used to go to monthly and we had a big party for her.”

Patient’s last wish is a lunch of Lebanese cuisine and laughter

A woman who cherished connection through food, Shannon was so excited to leave her house and share her favorite meal with loved ones and her care team.

“She was thrilled to get out and eat food with the people who were her world at that point,” Michelle said. “It shows what an amazing woman she was because she was so excited to sit and share time and food with her people. She was just happy to go out and be a person again, not just a hospice patient.”

To honor the special occasion, the Lebanese restaurant even made her an off-menu dessert item.

“Shannon exuberated joy and pure happiness during the lunch,” Michelle said. “The woman did not stop eating from the time the food was set in front of her to walking out the door. Her love language was food. And that day, she felt truly loved.”

Granting hospice patients’ last wishes is a joy and privilege

Although working in hospice can be difficult, Michelle says that her job is a blessing.

“To see the joy and happiness on each of these patients’ faces, honestly I may have gotten more out of it than they even did,” she said. “They were just so thrilled and so happy. These are the things that get you through the sad days. I’m very sad to have lost these patients but so happy and I get to remember them through these memories.”

And luckily for Michelle, her team at Enhabit shares the same sentiment. They are always looking for ways to continue granting hospice patients’ last wishes.

“Everybody in my office and on my team wants to continue helping patients in these ways,” she said. “I’m very blessed to work with people who truly care about our patients. It’s hard what we do; it’s sad what we do; but I know we made these people’s lives better.”

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