Knute Nelson Hospice provides comfort and support to end-of-life patients and families

“Whenever I heard ‘hospice,’ it was always a fear. To me it just meant the end of life was coming,” said Colleen (Marthaler) Miller. “Now I know hospice is a wonderful tool. The staff helped us. They helped dad. My faith grew stronger. I definitely see the other side of it now.”

Hospice provides quality of life and comfort for those at the end of life. It helps patients manage pain, makes them comfortable and supports them physically, emotionally and spiritually.

A lesser-known part of hospice is the support for families both before and after their loved one’s death.

The Marthaler family knows this first hand, having lost their dad, and their family has been supported by Knute Nelson Hospice before and after their dad’s passing.

Spiritual care for the patient and their family

“We can take a really hard situation and really make it beautiful,” said Deb Hadley, Hospice Spiritual Care Coordinator at Knute Nelson. Part of Hadley’s role is the lesser-known part of hospice — helping the family through the grief process both before and after their loved one’s death.

The Marthaler family with Deb Hadley, Knute Nelson Hospice Spiritual Care Coordinator. Pictured (left to right): Tina Brekken, Dennis Marthaler, Linda (Marthaler) Uhlenkamp, Janet (Marthaler) Neu Ramos, Deb Hadley, Colleen (Marthaler) Miller and Karen (Marthaler) VonWahlde. Contributed photo

“The whole family gathers together and receives so much care and nurture from so many people,” she said. “They bring us in at their most vulnerable time and they open their hearts to us.”

Many families are at a loss when their loved one is at the end of their life, according to Hadley.

“So many times they don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to say and they’re afraid,” she said. “I gather them around their loved one and they share what they love most about this person or how they’ve impacted their life.”

This brings comfort and peace both to the person nearing death, said Hadley, and “brings the family together and helps them embrace the situation they’re in.”

Since hospice staff takes care of the hands-on caregiving, “you can be the daughter or wife or son or husband – whoever you are, said Deb. “You can say everything you need to say and love on them.”

And grief doesn’t end after the dust settles.

What we know is backed up by science, and the evidence is growing, said Hadley. Grief affects people both emotionally and physically, both before and after a loved one’s death. The process takes at least a year. Often longer.

“We provide comfort to the whole family with our bereavement followup,” said Hadley.  “After the family member passes away, then there’s this whole family or the spouse left there to try to fumble through life. We’re there to really support them.”

After a loved one dies a bereavement coordinator at Knute Nelson will stay with the family for 13 months.

“The aftercare is amazing,” said Tina.

Throughout the 13 months, bereavement staff stay in touch with families to help them through their grieving process.

Guests reflect and celebrate the lives of loved ones lost at the Knute Nelson Hospice Dove Release in 2019. Contributed photo

“Grief just kind of goes on and on,” said Hadley. “But time is a healer. We provide as many resources, letters and phone calls as we can. We have grief groups that they can attend, which brings people who are in the same situation together. They can really grow and help each other through the process.”

Bereavement staff also do a lot of one-to-one visits as well.

“So much of it is just listening,” she said. “Just to let them say what’s on their mind, to let them get things out. To be the person they give it all to and then just help them heal through the process.”

“We want them to know that how they’re feeling really is normal and that they can survive this,” she said.

Hadley knows the grief process from experience.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re going crazy,” she said. “We let them know that they’re just not.”

The journey continues

Each year, Knute Nelson hosts a dove release for families whose loved ones died on hospice the previous year. The dove release had a particular impact on the Marthaler family.

“You write a message to your loved one,” said Dennis. “Then the doves bring it up to heaven and deliver it to them. It’s very touching.”

“It’s the last of life,” said Karen. “But definitely hospice helped us move along the journey with dad a lot easier than I ever expected.”

“Being able to get hugs and laughing,” said Janet. “I just thought it would be all sorrow, sorrow, sorrow. But they helped us see that this is part of life and how wonderful it is that we’re all together and experiencing it with dad. It was truly, truly a wonderful journey.”

About Knute Nelson Hospice

Knute Nelson Hospice provides spiritual care, among an array of other life enriching services, skilled nursing and therapy services, throughout west central Minnesota.

For questions, visit knutenelson.org/hospice or call (320) 759-1270 to connect with your local Knute Nelson Hospice team.

“We’re happy to help,” said Hadley.

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