Why We Need Hospice Help with Bereavement and End of Life Issues

My father Lon Ware

My dad Lon Ware, 1957

In late October 1959, the illness began as a simple cold and quickly moved to kidney failure. Since Dad was sick for twelve of my fourteen years, I was used to this. His doctors often predicted the worst, but they were always wrong. I expected him to survive again.

For the next few weeks, I spent my days in Dad’s hospital room doing school work and reading books while he slept. With me doing hospital duty, Mom could finish classes needed to get her teaching certification. By early November, Dad came home. While my mother was at night school, I prepared his dinner, rejoicing when he ate a few bites of broiled chicken and baked potato. The next morning, he was back in the hospital.

Mom called my brother Jim home from his freshman year at Yale. Jim took me aside to spare my mother the job.

“This is it,” Jim said. “This time Dad won’t make it.” I didn’t believe him.

Even though I’d spent weeks in the hospital with Dad, my grandparents convinced my mother that I was too young to witness death. It would upset a girl of fourteen, they reasoned. Scared, I agreed, but after a few days of banishment, I changed my mind.

“It’s my right,” I begged. I was sitting on Mom’s unmade bed, watching her frantically rummage through her dresser for something clean to wear to the hospital. “Mom, he is my father. I have to see him.”

My distraught mother gave in.

A few hours later, I followed Mom into Daddy’s hospital room. I stared at his quiet body, tubes sticking out everywhere. He was swollen nearly beyond recognition and his skin was yellow, but when I touched his hand, he opened his eyes and smiled. His puffy fingers gently tapped the stark white sheet next to his body, inviting me to come closer.

“Come here, Lanie, and give me a hug,” he whispered. His voice was weak, but it was my daddy’s sweet reassuring voice. I crawled up on the bed, found a place to curl my body next to his, and placed my hand on his chest.

“I love you, Lanie,” he said. “Remember that I love you.”

My tears erupted and dripped on the sheets. I knew I shouldn’t upset Mom or make a scene. I mumbled something; I don’t know what. I hope I said I love you. I stumbled down a drab corridor and made my way to an empty waiting room, lit dimly by low November light. I cried myself dry and then waited. Where were they? Why didn’t my mother or brother come for me? What was I supposed to do?

It seemed like hours before I swallowed my fear and walked back to Daddy’s darkened hospital room. I paused at the threshold and listened to his labored breathing, but could not make myself go in.

Dad went into a coma that night. Two days later, Mom held his hand and sat alone with his death and her frozen feelings. No one mentioned how I felt or what had happened to me. In 1959, there was no Hospice bereavement support to help my family through.


How was death handled in your family when you were a child? Have you needed help with grieving but didn’t know how to get it? Please visit the bereavement section of my website, for more articles on managing loss.

Learn more about the extensive bereavement services offered by Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County or your local hospice organization.

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, and the suggestion to look back at our early experiences of death. I remember standing with my family on the sidewalk, looking at my grandfather’s dead body after he had just been hit by a car. I was 11, maybe. I don’t remember anyone ever checking in to see how I was handling what I had witnessed, but they were dealing with their own loss too….

    • Wow, Christi. I’m sorry you had this shocking experience as a kid. I’m amazed that these heavy moments of loss were met without checking in with everyone in the family who was effected by the event. My mom was so busy containing her own pain that she couldn’t think about mine–and our extended family lived far away, came for the funeral, and left quietly with only general words of condolence. None of us knew what to do, so we tried to pretend that everything was normal. Our culture now seem to understand that the whole family needs support and that talking about what has happened helps. Three cheers to Hospice bereavement programs for kids.

  2. Elaine,I just read this about your dad. It was good you were in with your dad so he could say goodbye. Not too much for a girl of fourteen. Perhaps it was the lack of an understanding ear that was too much.

    When I was six or seven I had a serious big fear that my beloved Grammie was going to die and I told her I wanted her to never die. And she said that would be a sad thing to never die if everyone she loved died, and she was left with no one. “I will be here for you, Grammie,” I told her. But after only a couple of weeks, she had a massive stroke and lay in a coma for nine years before dying in a nursing home. Every Sunday we’d pile into the car and wait by that nursing home while Mom went to sit with her. I was the oldest but was never once allowed in to see her. Because she wasn’t the Grammie I knew. Oh, but she was. I felt the love for that lady behind those white clapboard walls, inside that heavy door atop the porch steps made of granite, inside the helpless doll that lay trapped in her skin. She died, when I was a teen, and always I felt her near me, my dear Grammie.

    • Thank you, Amelia. I consider it good fortune that I knew my dad when I was old enough to remember him well. He was a loving man and I wish I could have known him as an adult. The way children were separated from death and illness (it also happened to me with my grandparents) feels so wrong because death is a natural part of life. I think this is better understood now in this culture which has isolated the dying from their families. I’m sure it would have been sad for you to see your Grammie, but it might also have added a sense of completion and fullness to your relationship with her–and, of course, you were sad anyway. Our parents can’t protect us from sadness, no matter how hard they try. I hope you still feel your grandmother’s love strong and clear.

Leave a Reply