on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Hospice Time

This post is the twenty-second in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago on May 26, 1998.

It was approximately a week before Memorial Day when my stepmom called to say that my dad had been admitted to the hospital, again.  I drove the familiar route to the hospital and met them there.

Over the previous three years, my father had been hospitalized at least four or five times per year.  He had significant dementia related to congestive heart failure, and each hospitalization left him weaker until he could no longer walk.  Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and blood clots were just a few of the illnesses he battled.

As I walked into the hospital room, the doctor was giving what I instantly recognized as the “hospice talk.”  The doctor looked at me as I entered, nodded his head, and continued talking to my stepmom.

We can run more tests, and we can try more treatments, but I cannot tell you they are going to help Rev. Marler at all,” the soft spoken physician said.  “I believe he is tired, and doesn’t want to fight anymore.  I can’t say I blame him.  He has been through a lot these last few years.”

He continued,  “Hospice can help him be comfortable, free of pain, and be at home with his family.  Think it over, I will do what you want me to do.  He may only have a few weeks, or a few months at most,” he added as he slipped out of the room.

I had been in on dozens of these discussions with other patients, families, and physicians in my work, but because it was my father, it took my breath away.

On one hand, I had convinced myself somehow he would rebound.  Even with my training as a chaplain, I wanted to grab the doctor by his starched white coat and say, “You don’t understand.  This is my father, Lewis Marler.  We can’t give up.” As if my father was different than any other hospice patient.  But I had been too close to the situation and had fooled myself.

On the other hand, I began beating myself up for not seeing this sooner.  I wished I had more discussions with my father about his final wishes before he started getting confused, just like I had told everyone else to do.

When the doctor left, my internal struggle was interrupted by my stepmom’s question, “What should we do Malcolm?  What should we do?”

I looked at her and walked over to my dad’s bedside, leaned over close to his face so that he could hear me and hopefully understand what I was about to say.

I spoke clearly and slowly, “Dad, how do you feel about going home from the hospital but doing it different this time?  How would you feel about not going to any more doctor’s appointments, not taking any more medicine except that which keeps you comfortable, and never coming back to the hospital again?”

I was about to give the other option of continuing we additional treatments.

He turned his his head towards me, looked me in the eye and said with a smile, “That sounds pretty good to me.”  That was all I needed to hear.

“There is our answer,” I said.  And that is what we will do.

I called my work and told them I didn’t know how long I would be gone, but I wouldn’t be back until after my father’s funeral.  Thankfully, I had the personal time and a supportive boss.  And I went home with my parents to stay until my father died.

It is hard to let go and focus on comfort care.  But quality of life is more important than quantity.  This is a personal choice, of course, and it makes it a lot easier when you know the wishes of the patient.

In fact, as I write this, I am realizing this conversation needs to happen with my stepmom as well so that I know what her wishes are.

I was fortunate, we had a caring doctor who recognized it was time, and my own father who could say, “”That sounds pretty good to me.”  And so it was.

Time for hospice is never an easy decision, but it can be the most loving decision we ever make.

My father taught me so.


  1. Ann McGraw

    What a gift your father gave you when he spoke those words to you! They let you know what HE wanted to do and at least for that moment, he was the pre-dementia father you had always known.

    My father gave me a similar gift when I arrived at the CCU after driving 8 hours to get there. He was in obvious discomfort and knew he was dying, but he spoke words of affirmation to the nurse that was caring for him and then he and I spoke words of love to each other. I TREASURE that memory and pull it out of my memory banks frequently, even after 21 years.

    I have often said my father gave me 3 priceless gifts:
    1) He gave me a good name. (“A good name is rather to be had than great riches”.)
    2) He modeled parental love to me in such a way that it was easy for me to believe in a loving Heavenly Father.
    3) He left me in perfect peace about our relationship.

    From what I have read about your father, your testimony could be exactly the same. Only GRACE can explain why we were gifted so!

  2. Malcolm

    Dear Ann, thank you for sharing about your father. I’m so glad you could be there for that pivotal moment in your dad’s life.

    What wonderful gifts your father gave you in your life. You are right, it was a gift, pure grace.

    And I have to say that being in peace about your relationship makes the healing of grief so much easier in the long run. Many people do not have that opportunity.

    Peace to you,

  3. Harry Durham

    Malcolm-The hospice decision with your dad reminded me of the final days in my dad’s life.

    My mother died in the fall of 1993, the year Ina and I retired. My dad was 91 (as was my mother) at the time of her death and, while he had some health problems, he was able to live alone and care for himself, for a while.

    Over the next few years, as his heart grew weaker, we fortunately discovered that a neighbor of his was available to provide in-home care on a part-time basis. She was a real God-send and allowed my dad to stay in his home until the end. We brought hospice in during the last few months and by this time my brother and I were taking turns staying with Dad.

    Hospice was an excellent partner for the caregivers in my dad’s ending journey. We were able to keep him comfortable and he died peacefully and quietly about two months after his 96th birthday. We were lucky to have had both him and my mother with us so long.

  4. Malcolm

    Dear Harry,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your story abut your mother and dad. I remember meeting both of your parents, but got to spend a little more time with your dad.

    I am so glad you were able to find the right people at the right time, including hospice, to make those last few months and years for your dad so full of quality.

    I appreciate you as my second dad during and since my college years, and I will be forever grateful for your encouragement, love, and presence in my life.


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