FORT KENT, Maine — In 2007, when my late husband was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, we knew the odds were stacked against him.
For the four months Patrick battled the aggressive cancer, he promised time and time again he would beat it.
For my part, I promised him when and if the time came, I would support any end-of-life choice he made.
Turned out, beating cancer was the only promise in 26 years Patrick could not keep. For me, that day in the hospital learning the cancer had spread to every organ in his body, keeping my promise to support his decision to end all treatment was the hardest one I’ve ever kept.
Over the years, as a reporter I’ve written about death’s coming in every conceivable way possible — accidents, disease, crime and self-inflicted.
It’s never easy and I’ve learned only one thing: There is no “good” way to lose someone you love.
Depending on the situation, however, you don’t have to go it alone.
In Patrick’s case, at the end he wanted to come home to his beloved farm.
Thanks to a team of amazing friends, my brother-in-law and Aroostook County Hospice, we pulled it off and give Patrick the final gift of breathing his last in familiar surroundings.
In Hallmark or Lifetime movies, that sort of thing is always very calm, serene, sepia toned and scored with light violin music.
The reality can be very, very different.
There are issues of pain control, the patient’s personal hygiene, emotional ups and downs, and insurance considerations, all of which force a home’s “normal” routine to the back burner.
That’s where hospice care can come in.
Hospice care enhances the quality of a person’s remaining life by making the dying process as comfortable as possible for the patient and family.
Terminal patents enter hospice care on referral of a physician and then a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and aids is just a phone call away ready to answer any and all questions.
Palliative care comes thanks to hospice-supplied pain medications and related medical equipment.
When the end does come, hospice care collects all unused drugs and equipment from the home.
All of this at no cost to the patient.
What insurance or Medicaid does not cover, is covered through hospice programs.
No one is ever denied hospice care for financial reasons.
I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them when, for example, at 3 in the morning Patrick began hemorrhaging blood.
A quick call to to the 24-hour hospice line connected me with a nurse who talked us through what was going on and how to best deal with it.
But what about those in northern Maine for whom this level of in-home care is impossible and do not want to spend their final days in a clinical hospital setting?
The Aroostook Hospice Foundation is moving full steam ahead with plans for a free-standing hospice facility in central Aroostook County which could be operational before the end of the year.
They have had to shift gears after finding out the piece of rural land donated in 2013 for what was to become the Aroostook House of Comfort would entail too much expensive groundwork to meet water and sewer regulations.
“That has put us in a place where we have to be where public sewer and water is available,” Rick Duncan, president of the Aroostook Hospice Foundation, said. “That is the only thing we can do [but] we still have options.”
The foundation is now in negotiations to buy an existing building in central Aroostook County, Duncan said, declining to go into specifics about where it is or who owns it.
“We are talking to the owner of the property and it’s looking like now it will be more of a renovation project than a new construction project,” Duncan said.
He is hopeful renovations can begin this summer.
“Our architect has come up with a new design that looks really good,” Duncan said. “There is space and opportunity for rental space in the facility that could help offset expenses.”
So far Duncan’s foundation has raised $1.6 million toward a goal of $2.5 million that would include a $500,000 endowment to help fund hospice and palliative care for those with no insurance or other financial means.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, was in northern Maine and met with members of the Aroostook Hospice Foundation board of directors to discuss possible funding options.
“We do have an older population in Aroostook and we have a lot of seniors who are living far from family and who need help as they approach the end of their lives,” Collins said Tuesday.
Collins told me this week hospice care is something near and dear to her heart.
“I was so impressed to learn of the plans for the Aroostook House of Comfort,” she said. “For those people who do not want to be in a hospital surrounded by high-tech equipment and would rather be in a home-setting surrounded by family, hospice is a Godsend.”
While in Aroostook, Collins pledged to do what she could to help Duncan’s foundation locate grants and other sources of possible funding.
Collins’ admiration of hospice is something I share.
Not long after Patrick’s death I became a member of the citizens’ advisory board for Visiting Nurses of Aroostook/Hospice of Aroostook.
The proposed central Aroostook facility will start with six patient suites but have room to expand to nine, Duncan said.
Each will have a private bathroom, microwave oven, refrigerator and space for family members who wish to stay with their loved ones.
A kitchen will provide meals and space for family members who wish to prepare food.
Windows will overlook gardens and there will be a chapel, meeting rooms, a dining room and a children’s playroom.
A team approach of hospice professionals consisting of physicians, nurses, home-health aides, social workers, chaplains, bereavement staff and volunteers will work with the patient and their family members to customize and follow a plan that reflects the patient’s needs and wishes.
The idea is to provide support and care for the terminally ill patients, their family members and friends in a home-like environment, according to Duncan.
“We could fill those rooms right now,” he said. “There is a real need for this in Aroostook County.
The Comfort House will be staffed and operated by Visiting Nurses of Aroostook.
Methods of giving, through multi-year pledges, gifts of cash, life insurance, appreciated securities, charitable bequests, naming opportunities and more, as well as more information about the project, are available on its website, aroostookhouseofcomfort.com.
Donations also may be mailed to Aroostook House of Comfort, P.O. Box 867,
Presque Isle, ME 04769.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.