Helping Ourselves and Helping Others at the End of Life : Guest Blog by Janet Prescott

This post was written for LastingMatters by Janet W. Prescott, Executive Director of Hospice Help Foundation.

Helping Ourselves and Helping Others at the End of Life

I learned over the course of my nearly two-decade career that a good way to cut a conversation short was to mention I work in hospice.

However, in recent years I sense a real shift in how people think about end of life.  Now when I say I work in hospice everyone has a story they want to share about someone they know who died, an experience with death they want to talk about, or questions they want to ask.

The recent Death Café movement, along with Death over Dinner, The Conversation Project, and Respecting Choices, to name just a few of the programs that strive to normalize death and encourage conversation about it, have opened the door to let the taboo subject of death out of the closet. Community members are coming together in supportive settings to talk about what’s on their mind concerning their own inevitable demise, or that of someone they know, and they’re looking for ways to make their own communities more compassionate places to both live and die.

While the conversation is essential, there continues to be a void when it comes to resources for impoverished people at the end of their life. Hospice Help Foundation, a charity located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, provides financial assistance to hospice patients living below the poverty line, and offers a way for community members to step up and support the less fortunate. People often empty their bank accounts fighting a terminal illness, and are left penniless as they die.

The Hospice Help Foundation provides immediate assistance in order to lift the emotional and financial burdens that accompany a terminal diagnosis. Providing funds for rent, utilities and food; transportation to bring families together for visits; ramps and scooters to enable patients to remain mobile and independent; last wishes; and even help with funeral costs for the neediest patients who would otherwise not have a dignified burial, makes all the difference in the world to people whose lives are slipping away by the minute.

John, a Viet Nam Veteran on hospice, hadn’t left his home in over four years, due to extreme shortness of breath and a lack of transportation. His hospice social worker asked John “What would bring you joy?” He responded that he wanted to go down the road to fish from one of his favorite spots.

John’s hospice team applied to Hospice Help Foundation for funds to purchase a motorized scooter for John. Within one-week John had the scooter, and on a sunny day in April, John and his wife went fishing. Donors made it possible for John to have some joy at the end of his life. 

There are many things we can do to help each other at the end of life, and to ensure that we’re ready when our own time comes. Getting our personal matters in order with the help of organizers, such as The LastingMatters Organizer, is one way we ensure that our families and friends have less of a struggle when we die.

Having open and honest conversations with our families and medical providers, making sure we have up to date Advance Directives, and being aware of community resources where neighbors can donate to help others, are just a few of the steps we can take to ensure a more peaceful end of life for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our neighbors.

Janet W. Prescott is Executive Director of the Hospice Help Foundation in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Foundation provides assistance to hospice patients and their families with dire financial need in an effort to ease the burdens that can accompany a terminal diagnosis.