I have very specific instructions for my husband about what should happen should I be the one to face a terminal illness first in our marriage and find myself in my last weeks and days of life.  They go something like this:

First, he must ensure that I get to listen to some quality country and bluegrass music.  Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves must be on repeat in the room in which I am lying.  Occasional quiet is good, but there is no way around the banjos and the fiddles.

Second, he must make sure that my beloved cat (or at least a very friendly cat) finds its way to my bed and somewhat near my lap.  He must let said cat curl up with me for at least a few hours at a time.  Purring and meowing along with the cat are completely acceptable.

Third, he should supply me with coffee (preferably Starbucks) as long as I can swallow.  A snickerdoodle cookie here and there wouldn’t hurt either.

Lastly, and most importantly – he should not be the one caring for me 24/7 in my final weeks, days and hours.

He needs to be able to focus on being the person he has been for as long as the moment we said “I do”: my husband.  He needs to be able to be present with me.

As a hospice professional, I know that the last of all of these requirements is perhaps the most challenging to fulfill – and it’s NOT because my husband has trouble sitting still.

It’s because fulfilling this last task requires a succinct amount of resources.

You need individuals willing and strong enough to turn a body in a bed in intervals to prevent discomfort.

You need individuals skilled enough to know how to administer medicines around the clock and assess comfort levels.

You need individuals compassionate enough to process regrets and happy memories, individuals who know the value and power of listening.

You need individuals willing to bake cookies, to clean rooms, to open doors for beloved pets, to locate and play bluegrass music, and to brew Starbucks coffee.

You need individuals willing to help your loved one do the tasks that really seem impossible to accomplish when bearing the emotional weight of having to say good-bye.

The truth is that just as it takes a village to bring a human being into the world, it takes a village to give a human being a dignified exit.

Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg is this village.  And it is here in our own backyard.

It is a village of professional staff members, trained volunteers and community leaders who believe that every individual should live fully and with dignity even into their last breath.

It is a village that serves over 160 individuals facing end-of-life in the beautiful Hospice House, a home away from home providing 24/7 around the clock care free-of-charge.

It is a village that provides in-home caregiver relief to 25-30 families each year, offering companionship and support as individuals face life-limiting illnesses.

It is a village that services nearly 600 bereaved family members each year through focused support groups, phone calls, flower deliveries, communal memorial services and social gatherings.

It is a village that, as a hospice chaplain, I hope will be here long beyond my thirty-two years of life, ready and willing to greet me with open arms when I am in need of such services.

On April 28, 2018, Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg will be hosting its 6th Annual Hike for Hospice House from 9:30 AM – Noon.   The event is an uplifting memorial walk through the beautiful landscapes of Governor’s Land, Park East.

As a village, we will be coming together for this event to honor all of those individuals who have gone before us.  We will be walking in their memory.

As a village, we will walk remembering the care that these beloved individuals received and the care that we, as their family members and friends received.

As a village, we will remember what an honor it is to journey with individuals facing the last phases of life and what a privilege it is to support the people they love.

And as a village, with gratitude in our hearts, we will ensure that that same care will be rendered for generations to come – for the villages yet to be created.

Won’t you join us?


To register for the 6th Annual Hike for Hospice House please visit www.hikeforhospicehouse.org.  Thank you for your support of Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg!

Audrey Smith is the Executive Director of Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg (HHSCW). HHSCW is a social-model hospice that cares for people at the end of life, comforts the bereaved and empowers others to do the same. The Hospice House itself is a spacious residence that is a home away from home for our guests and their families. Support care services range from companionship in families' homes to extensive bereavement programs provided to families throughout the community. Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg is a 501(c)(3) organization that is entirely funded by contributions. No family or individual ever receives a bill for our services and support; nor do we accept Medicare, Medicaid or other reimbursements. For more information or to make a gift, please call Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg at 757-253-1220 or visit www.williamsburghospice.org.

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