For 58 years, my parents shared many things, all of them in love.
They shared a sense of wonder, joy, a gregarious openness to people and life. And they both held to a notion, which I’m grateful to have inherited, of what it means to live well, to be fully human: one needs to strive to be a good person who equally aspires to do good for others in this world.
Beginning in August 2012, my parents, Barb and Dave, set off on their most difficult of journeys, literally one day apart from each other. My mom’s incurable immune-system cancer came out of remission, and my dad came down with severe West Nile virus.
They then shared what it means to die well, with dignity and quality of life: one needs to be encircled by good people doing their best to do good for others within the most caring of collaborative communities—Ionia Area Hospice.
As the eldest of their 4 children, it unsurprisingly fell to me to share most intimately in my parents’ caretaking over the course of the longest 13 months of my life. They also entrusted me with the legal and ethical responsibility for making what seemed a series of near-impossible decisions about their lives and deaths. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything; it was one of the most meaningful, transformative ever.
Yet I won’t lie. It was unbelievably stressful. It was existentially and physically exhausting. I frequently felt alone…That is, until I discovered Ionia Area Hospice and the Stoneleigh Residence.
It was a profound relief to be able to speak truthfully about all that I’d been going through and truly be heard; to have my parents’ wishes honored, down to the smallest, sweetest of details; to find compassionate people who know how to gracefully move through the process of death, naturally, while caring for the whole of my family.
Ionia Area Hospice gifted me the honor of participating in one of the most goodness-infused experiences of my life. I was able to be fully present for my dad’s and then my mom’s comfortable passing on, respectively, May 16 and October 3, 2013, with family, friends, and my new friends at hospice—a gift made possible, crucially, by generous monetary donations.
I’m sharing my story—at least a small portion of it—in hopes that you’ll join me in contributing to Ionia Area Hospice. Dying well takes people tending cooperatively to each other in a homey setting, with empathy and open hearts.
It takes, too, financial donations from good people like you.
No gift is too small: $100 translates into extra supplies not covered by insurance; $200 underwrites emotional and spiritual support for the dying and the living; and $500 helps offset the cost of hospice nurses and aids traveling to people’s homes for care, 24/7. The good folks at Ionia Area Hospice are grateful for all contributions, modest and much larger, such as through their new major-donor program, the Lotus Society.
When the time and need comes in your life, I hope, of course, that you’ll turn to Ionia Area Hospice and Stoneleigh Residence to discover the best of humanity, the best in letting people die on their own terms and assisting those who live on to grieve well afterward.
Ionia Area Hospice gave me so many priceless gifts, so many pleasant memories. I never dreamed that death could be so beautiful.
By moving my dad to Stoneleigh for his last 8 days, for instance, I was able to fulfill his wishes. After 9 awful months, he was freed from life-support equipment to be able to savor nature again at full spring bloom and the taste of food. He was reunited, around the clock, with friends and family, especially my mom.
I was also able to meet my mom’s wishes. She stayed at Burcham Hills, her assisted-living home of the past year, where her best friend of 40 years lives, too. For 2 weeks, her room became part social space, part “slumber party” for my sisters and mom.
When my parents each gently breathed their final breaths, me by their side both times, the hospice folks continued to treat them with respect. They tenderly sent them on another journey, washing and dressing them, tucking a cozy quilt around them.
Please give generously to Ionia Area Hospice so that many others—perhaps you too—can continue to share in goodness and love.
Cindy Milstein, writer and daughter