By Susan Gigliotti, LICSW, Hospice Social Worker
I have been a hospice social worker for the past 16½ years. Throughout my hospice journey I have worked with numerous families going through the grieving process. Ironically, when I started at All Care, I had never experienced a very close family member dying. My patients and their families ask how I do this work and walk through so much grief; I explain that it is a totally different experience than walking through grief with a loved one. When I started as a hospice social worker my mother was a young/vibrant 82 year old who had endured many struggles throughout her life, I was also a new mother of a nine month old. This is my journey through grief.
Once my mother turned 85, I noticed that she was starting to slow down and needed more care and had less energy to play with my daughter (Mikayla). I so missed seeing her play with Mikayla. At 87, I noticed that she no longer wanted to get together four times a week and we missed spending this time with her. I began to realize that my mom was starting to head to the end, but how can you be prepared for losing your mom? I still thought she would be with us until she was 90. When she was 87½ she ended up in the hospital with internal bleeding and had blood transfusion. I was her health care proxy, but she was still able to make her wishes known and was adamant that she wanted no further treatment. Honoring her wishes was one of the hardest things I ever did. I think I was beginning to realize that she would probably not live to 90. She stabilized and was sent to a rehab facility with the goal to move in with my family. She very quickly declined at the rehab and I was told that she would need another blood transfusion, but her decision was to have no more treatments.
I talked with All Care’s Hospice Medical Director and he said “your mom doesn’t have a long time left (maybe a few days), it is time for hospice”. I was thrown into a state of panic not knowing how she or my family would accept this news, a part of me thought he was wrong and it wasn’t my mom’s time. After being told this devastating news I spent the first night crying and reaching out to my best friend. I was in disbelief even though I had been a hospice social worker for five years at that point. I would like to share my mom’s story and how I thought she would react to her own death, and how this would impact me.
My mom was a German Jew during WWII, she was 16 years old when the war started. Her whole world was turned upside. She had grown up in a moderately wealthy family. Her dad (my grandfather) owned a department store, which was almost immediately taken by the Nazis during the occupation. He decided that he must try to escape, and soon left Germany with my uncle. My mom never saw him again. My mom lost many of her close friends and neighbors. The war-years left such an incredible burden on her soul that she never recovered from that time. Losing friends and family would throw her into a depression that would take months to recover from. My mom was never fully able to share about this time.
I remember sitting down with the hospice nurse and telling my mom that she was very sick and it was time to come onto hospice. My mom accepted the news so peacefully it almost seemed like it was a relief to her. Next came the difficult task of telling my brother and cousin, Lili. Lili accepted this news, but my brother was devastated and wanted to send her to the hospital. My mom passed two days after coming onto hospice with my brother and I by her side.
After her death I felt that I had lost a part of myself. I had dreams that she was still with us and would wake up wanting to call her. Even months after my mom died I felt her presence around us and would want to reach out to her. As my daughter has grown I see parts of her in my daughter, I feel blessed to be able share this with Mikayla. As time has gone by I think of my mom frequently and wonder what would she do in certain situations.
From my journey through grief, I have learned that everyone has a different path they walk after losing a loved one. Until you live through the loss of a loved one you will not know how you will react and how it will affect your life.