Few things are as heartbreaking as knowing that a loved one is about to pass away. When one first faces the situation, doubts pile up because quite often we are not prepared to say goodbye. Hospice of Anchorage is dedicated to walk alongside those facing this process. It is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 where nurses, social workers, and volunteers accompany terminal patients and families to the bridge between life and death.
Anna Haylock, Belizean-American living in Alaska for more than twenty years, turned to Hospice of Anchorage when her father was dying in 1992, and later again during her mother’s passing two years ago.
Otilio Cocom, Anna’s father, was in Alaska on vacation. As he was from another country and his diagnosis was terminal within three weeks, Anna reached out to Hospice of Anchorage for help and guidance. Anna says: “Hospice of Anchorage really helped us. They helped us at the end of his life, which came one week after. Hospice assisted with referral and advice with cremation so that he could be buried back home.”
With her mother, Josephine Pérez, the process was more drawn out. When Josephine received a terminal diagnosis five months before her passing, Hospice of Anchorage stepped in. Josephine lived in an assisted living home, but needed social interaction, medication monitoring, and medical attention. So Hospice of Anchorage’s care coordinator, nurses, and volunteers came to routinely check on her. Volunteers did craft work, gave her massages, or just kept her company.
“I would get in arguments with my mom because I wanted her to give her stuff to whoever she wanted to before she passed. She got upset and said, ‘I am not dead yet.’” Overwhelmed, Anna commented her concern with Hospice of Anchorage’s staff, and they addressed the problem in a different way. They told Josephine: “While you are still strong wouldn’t you like to gift your possessions to your grandchildren, children, and friends personally, and let them know why you want them to have the gift?” Anna continues: “Mom did it, and enjoyed gifting her stuff as it brought peace, joy, and love to her heart.”
When it was time, Hospice of Anchorage’s care coordinator advised Anna to take her mother to Providence ER, as it was time for the hospital’s hospice to take over her care. The hospital’s hospice team took over her care at the assisted living home the last two days of her life. Josephine died surrounded by her family and all the people who cared for her.
After Josephine passed, Hospice of Anchorage supported the family during their grieving process. “We all grieved differently,” says Anna, explaining that Hospice of Anchorage helped them to identify how everyone dealt with their own grief, and what the signs were. Hospice of Anchorage helped them also to acknowledge that what they were feeling was grief and they deserved to grieve. Anna is grateful: “In the end, the passing of my mother became something beautiful and not sad, or full of regrets. I smile when I recall her final moments. I feel so grateful that Hospice of Anchorage walked with me through this journey.”
Anna decided to give back to Hospice of Anchorage some of the support she received, and she became a board member on March 2017.
Hospice of Anchorage’s services are free and patients do not need to have medical insurance or Medicare. Among their volunteers, a couple speak Spanish and can provide support to Hispanic patients. Director Paula Vrana explains that unlike the other hospices of the community that deal with care for patients with a life expectancy of up to six months, Hospice of Anchorage is able to take patients with a longer life expectancy and is therefore able to help earlier on in a patient’s illness. Hospice of Anchorage also offers palliative care, which can begin at diagnosis and can be offered while the patient continues treatment. Hospice of Anchorage is the only hospice providing for patients under the age of eighteen.