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Hospice: An Option at the End of Life

To read this post in Spanish click here.

There were no needles, no tubes, no catheters and no machines.  My father-in-law’s death from cancer was as peaceful, as possible.

Maria Otero with her father and brother

Jorge, Maria and Pablo Otero

Rather than spend his last days in a cold hospital room surrounded by strangers, Pablo died March 8, 2018, at home in hospice. He was surrounded by his children, grandchildren listening to rancheras (folk songs) and corridos (ballads) by Mexican singers Vicente Fernandez, Rocio Durcal, including his favorite tune by Jose Alfredo Jimenez’s ranchera La Mano de Dios (God’s Hand) as he held my husband Jorge’s hand in prayer.

Pablo was a former migrant worker, a Catholic, grounded to his faith to the very end. He was going through excruciating pain in his back and bones. In less than four weeks, we went from celebrating his 79th birthday to mourning his painful death from cancer.  

My suegro (father-in-law) had been dealing with some other kind of unrelated health issues for probably a year. He had endured agonizing test after test, and he was a trooper. We found out that he had cancer, and it was shocking. Some of us were in disbelief, maybe denial, so we couldn’t really grasp that we have limited time with him.

Doctors gave us two options: A biopsy to determine where the cancer was located or hospice. 

We chose hospice. 

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month and an opportune time to bring to light this option at the end of life. It is also a good time to clear out some of the misconceptions among the Latino/Hispanic community of this service that provides compassionate medical care at the end of life.

Hospice is not a physical location. It is an interdisciplinary team approach to treatment that includes expert medical care, comprehensive pain management, and emotional and spiritual support. This service enables patients and families to focus on living as fully as possible despite a life-limiting illness. Caring for the whole person allows the hospice team to address each patient’s unique needs and challenges. This includes understanding and respecting each patient’s culture, family traditions and beliefs. 

Hospice is almost always provided in the patient’s home, but arrangements can be made for it to be provided wherever the patient is most comfortable, such as in the home of a family member or friend. Hospice services are also provided in hospice facilities, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

As a New Mexican, I’m well aware how hard it is for my Hispanic/Latinos to talk about death. Preparing for death is more critical than ever, especially because Hispanics and people of color are dying at a disproportionate rate from the coronavirus compared to other Americans. 

Compassion & Choices created a free online bilingual COVID-19 toolkit available at CompassionAndChoices.org to help people understand their end-of-life care options.

Creating an advance directive is something every person should do.  

And there is–literally–not a more critical time to do it.

It has been almost two years since Grandpa Pablo closed his eyes forever. Just this month, we honored my suegro’s memory with a beautiful altar during our annual Day of Dead celebration. I hugged my husband and reminded him of those last precious and blessed moments we spent at home with his dad.

Hospice was the best choice we made for my suegro. They made sure we got the emotional and calming support needed during those very tough last five weeks. Our family cried in silence as my husband hugged and kissed his father’s forehead for the last time.

My suegro took his last breath that Thursday night at 10:12 p.m. He knew he was loved. And we were at peace. 

In Memory of Pablo Otero.


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