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Hospice services are vital to the Vail Valley

Tamara Miller
Tamara Miller
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It was around Easter, a year ago; one of those rare times when all of us were home at the same time.

That first night we gathered around the dining room table and talked. We laughed. We teased. We drank, and we carefully avoided the topic that hung over the room like a bomb waiting to explode.

We all knew why we were there. Why it was important we were all there together. Since December, my father had been having some problems speaking. At first it was just at night. His speech slowed and slurred almost as if he were drunk. As weeks went by, the slurred speech became less the exception, and more the norm.

For months, doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him. Diagnosis would be made through a process of elimination. Stroke had been ruled out, Bell’s Palsy didn’t fit. My parents had gone to the doctor again that week, in hopes of finally getting an answer. They hadn’t told us yet, preferring to wait until we were all home to break the news.

Learning that someone you love has a terminal disease makes you look at life, and death, in a new light. When we found out that weekend that my dad had ALS, better known as Lou Gerhig’s Disease, each of us were forced on the long, winding road better known as grief. Since then, each of the members of my family have had to ask themselves what we need to do with the time dad has left.

We have classes for expectant mothers and fathers, we have college to ostensibly prepare young people for the workforce. Preschool prepares young children for kindergarten. We have services and programs to prepare people for all sorts of life-changing events. Death, an event that all human beings will have to experience, should be no different.

Hospice services are a somewhat new phenomenon, but families and friends have been helping each other deal with the impacts of life-limiting illnesses for years. From helping patients manage their pain to providing emotional support, hospice services are as necessary in the Vail Valley as a birthing class.

Maxine Miller’s friends and family know that, too. They realized there were few resources in Eagle County to help them, and help Maxine, get the most out of the life she had left. To that end, they used their love for their friend to create a room at the Vail Valley Medical Center specifically to help patients like Maxine be as comfortable as possible until she died.

Nothing can take away the pain from knowing that someone you love will die. But providing support, even in the life-loving Vail Valley, is a critical component of being a wholly complete community.

I’ve taken solace in the fact that my father has great doctors. The local ALS chapter and the local hospice servoce checks on him weekly, making sure he has the equipment he needs to live life as fully as he can. And I’m comforted by the fact that my mother has friends and family that can help out when needed.

Hospice patients are typically asked if there is anything they want to do before they die. If they want to take a trip, mend an estranged relationship, take up a new project. When my father was asked this question, shortly after his diagnosis, he responded that he didn’t want to do anything new. All he wants is to spend time with his family, continue the hobbies he has, and live life just as contently as he always has. And for me, that’s the most comforting thing of all.

Tamara Miller can be reached at tmiller@vailtrail.com.


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