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Your Health
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Embracing Life’s Final Moments

Local attorney praises hospice for providing options and compassion during his mother’s last days

For those who’ve experienced end-of-life care first hand or know someone who has, the word hospice embodies a variety of meanings and emotions. It may evoke sentiments of peace, comfort and support. In some cases, feelings of uncertainty or fear may define the word and its significance.

Despite its many connotations, hospice offers patients and their families a range of unique opportunities for saying goodbye as comfortably and peacefully as possible. Santa Barbara attorney Steve Yungling said hospice meant options as his mother faced death following a long battle with cancer.

Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39, Yungling’s mother, Darlene, had only one wish — to watch her sons grow up. Over the next 18 years, she would battle cancer six times in a courageous effort to see that wish fulfilled. Finally in 2008, Darlene’s cancer had metastasized to her brain and she could fight no longer. However, in her final days, she experienced an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort knowing that she was surrounded by family, friends and, most important, her grown-up sons.

Attorney Steve Yungling said hospice meant options as his mother faced death following a long battle with cancer.
Attorney Steve Yungling said hospice meant options as his mother faced death following a long battle with cancer. (Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care photo)

During their mother’s last few weeks, the Yungling brothers agreed it was time to consider hospice. They called Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care to help them navigate the end-of-life process and cope with the many decisions that needed to be made in the coming weeks. The family worked closely with Barbara Irvine, RN, a hospice nurse at VNHC, who offered compassion and support every step of the way.

“Even though we were facing the most difficult and challenging times you could ever imagine; even though it was very difficult to realize my mom wasn’t going to make it to age 60; it provided tremendous support to have Barbara and her team there showing my mom compassion, support and love in her final moments,” Yungling said.

“It was very important to Steve and his family that every effort be made to ensure Darlene was comfortable, lucid and pain free so she could enjoy her remaining time with family and friends as much as possible,” said Irvine.

Most patients come to hospice at the end of their lives after all available medical treatments have been exhausted and the reality of dying finally sets in. For this reason, hospice is sometimes viewed as conceding failure or giving up. While it’s true hospice does not function to prolong life or cure disease, it does everything but give up on patients.

“Hospice delivers compassionate end-of-life care through an integrated team of doctors, nurses, social workers and spiritual counselors who work around the clock to support a patient and family through the dying and grieving process,” said Lynda Tanner, president and CEO of Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care.

For the Yunglings, hospice allowed them to bring their mother to Santa Barbara to be near them, confident they had enough support from VNHC to care for her properly at home. For their mother, it allowed her to spend quality time with her two granddaughters.

“One of my favorite pictures was the three of them wearing fairy wings and running around the house playing fairies and princesses. My mom loved it because she only had boys and it was her chance to engage with girls and be girly-girls, if you will. Just being around to watch them grow, because at that age they change on a daily basis, it was really important to her to be able to watch those changes as long as possible,” Yungling said of his mother’s last moments with her grandchildren.

Each person you ask will define hospice in their own, unique way. Each family will have had a different experience and their own story to tell. As Steve Yungling so eloquently expressed, the heart of hospice for him truly lies in providing options. And where there are options, there is hope. Hope not always for recovery, but for the possibility of peace and happiness at the end, even as we take that one last breath.

Nonprofit since 1908, Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care provides high quality, comprehensive home health, hospice and related services necessary to promote the health and well-being of all community residents, including those unable to pay. Serving all of Santa Barbara County including Santa Ynez and Lompoc Valleys. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.5555.

Become a fan of Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care on Facebook.

— Rachel Wilkinson is a foundation development associate at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care.

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