To Live Until He Died, Dad Chose Hospice

Sep 14, 2020

Several years ago, my father, Richard Eugene "Dick" Stockman, found out that he had a rare cancer. In the early stages, we had high hopes that the treatments he received would stop or greatly delay its spread. Dad kept his usual positive attitude—we all did—as he stoically endured all that was asked of him. There were some minor victories during that time, but eventually the day arrived that we hoped would never come: Dad’s oncologist told him that additional curative treatment was unlikely to be effective.

When presented with a “what” and “when” over which he had no control, my practical, no-nonsense father decided to focus on what he could control: the “how” and the “where.” Dad wanted an end-of-life option that would allow him to stay in the home he had built for Mom and our family more than 50 years ago on the acre of his family’s land he had cleared himself on South Mountain. And most importantly, he wanted to be able to live until he died.

For Dad, that meant having access to his workshop in our basement, his self-described “sanctuary” where he built wooden puzzles, toys, wine racks, and other items he designed in his spare time. It meant having the freedom to make himself a fried egg in the kitchen when he felt like it and watching the birds and wildlife from his broken-in recliner next to the fireplace. And it meant feeling good enough to cheer for his grandchildren from the sidelines during their soccer matches and football games as long as possible.

I had always heard “hospice isn’t about dying, it’s about living,” but I never completely understood what that meant until now. Getting Frederick Health Hospice involved relatively early in Dad’s illness truly allowed him to live life on his terms—literally until his very last breath.

When Dad made the decision to call Frederick Health Hospice, we expected his care team to be well-trained experts in pain and symptom management. They were indeed, but they were so much more than that. In addition to being utterly professional, everyone from Hospice was compassionate and deeply caring. And because they respected him so much, Dad trusted them completely. Whatever they asked, he would do.

From the moment Hospice became involved in Dad’s care, we were able to simply spend time with him—not as his caregivers but as the people he loved most in the world. Hospice managed Dad’s medications. They made sure we had all the equipment he needed or might need. They became our single point of access for everything. If Dad’s mouth was dry, Hospice brought a special moisturizing mouthwash. It was such a relief to have just one number to call when Dad needed something or we had a question.

Having Dad’s day-to-day needs so thoroughly and lovingly taken care of gave us the greatest gift of all—time to just be with him. Personally, I was able to have conversations with him that I’ll treasure forever. I was able to ask him about his youth, especially how he had gotten involved with car-racing. We talked about some of the construction projects he had helped build—high-profile buildings I had driven past for years without ever knowing the role my Dad had played in their construction.

On October 18, 2019, our extended family celebrated Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary in their home. For the next month, Dad continued to putter in his workshop, talk to family and friends, and enjoy his visits with his new Hospice family. On November 16, Dad woke up feeling especially tired. With our encouragement, he got into the bed Hospice had provided “just in case.” The bed provided plenty of room for us all to gather around him. Comfortable and at peace, Dad closed his eyes for the last time.

Saying goodbye to our Dad was very painful, and I know each of us will feel his absence deeply for the rest of our lives. But thanks to Hospice, along with our sadness, we also feel peace…because we know that Dad had the best end-of-life experience possible.

And that means we all did.

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