The Calming Presence of Pet Therapy

“Carol LOVES cats!” Community Liaison for Hospice of the Midwest, Nick Blees stated as he asked if we had a therapy cat and volunteer to visit Carol. Volunteer Lynnette had just the right cat, Noodle, to visit with Carol in her last weeks of life. Lynnette sat nearby as Carol would pet noodle, over and over again.

Nick said, “I had learned of Carol’s love for cats and that she had to give hers up when she moved into the memory care unit. When I heard this, I reached out and was immediately able to find the perfect cat to visit with Carol. After she passed, we reminisced on a photo of Carol smiling with Noodle, a woman that had been in pain leading up to her hospice admission.”

The team at Hospice of the Midwest was able to hear what was important to Carol and fulfill that wish prior to her passing.

Lynnette, Noodle’s owner explained, “Noodle and I met Carol in her last days. She was aware that Noodle was near as he curled up on the side of her bed and helped comfort her by touching his paw on her hand. It was a tender moment.”

Pets have a calming and soothing quality to their presence, which bodes well for hospice patients. Pet therapy was just what Carol needed as she did not have family nearby to visit her. It was an honor to give her this gift.

All My Life’s a Circle | Hospice of the Midwest Music Therapy

Music therapy is an important part of what Hospice of the Midwest has to offer our patients. Our Music Therapist, Crystal Berkenes, provides services that help with pain management and end-of-life support. Crystal utilizes music and instrumentation to reach non-musical goals, increase self-expression and decrease anxiety or restlessness. Collaborating with team members who work with the patients daily, Crystal can create a music therapy plan that is tailored to what the patients connect to.

When one patient mentioned to Crystal his fond memories of sitting around a campfire while singing songs and making music with guitars and spoons, she had an idea. Crystal and another team member began putting together a special campfire experience for this patient by finding and researching how they could create a campfire experience without the real fire. Due to the patient being on oxygen, a real fire was simply not an option, so the team members found a faux battery-powered campfire online for them to sit around and sing.

The patient got his campfire experience. As Crystal plucked at her banjo & another team member strummed her guitar, they sang along to campfire songs with the patient. Person after person kept stopping by, commenting on how life-like the fire was and listening to the music. Weeks later, patients continued bring up the experience. Crystal even remembers the patient belly-laughing when someone asked if they were roasting marsh mellows on the fire.

“You could almost feel the warmth in the room because of the flame and music we were creating,” stated the patient.

This experience was really geared towards the patient and what was important for him. That’s the special thing about music therapy. Music therapists are able to listen to the patients and act on what they hear by making it a reality and helping them through music.

By giving this patient, and many others, personal experiences through music, music therapists help take away the pain in that moment. Here at Hospice of the Midwest we strive to make our patients more comfortable, and with the help from our therapists like Crystal Berkenes, that’s possible.

The patient put it best when he said, “It has always been important, throughout my entire life, that people are able to have experiences like these with music.” As he has reflected on lyrics toward deeper meaning for his life he recalls, “All my life’s a circle…”

Life-Limiting Illnesses – When to Call Hospice

A life-limiting illness is an incurable chronic disease or condition that no longer respond to curative treatments.

Examples of a life-limiting illness include:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia
  • Stroke
  • ALS
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Pulmonary Disease
  • Liver Disease
  • End-stage Renal Disease
  • AIDS
  • Cancer

A life limiting illness, coupled with symptoms below, could be indicators of decline and hospice eligibility:

  • Frequent hospitalizations, ER visits, or visits to the physician within the last six months
  • Progressive weight loss (with consideration to weight gain factors such as edema, when applicable)
  • Decreasing appetite
  • Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
  • Increased weakness or fatigue
  • Decline in cognitive status or functional abilities
  • Increasing assistance needed with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
  • Increasing pain or increasing difficulty in controlling pain
  • Increasing dyspnea or shortness of breath
  • Oxygen dependency
  • Reoccurring infections
  • Ascites
  • Increased nausea and/or vomiting that is difficult to control
  • A desire to forgo future hospitalizations
  • A request to discontinue treatment
  • Recurrent or frequent infections
  • Skin breakdown
  • A specific decline in condition

If you or a loved one has a life-limiting illness and are experiencing any of the above symptoms, consider speaking to your physician about hospice services. You can also call Hospice of the Midwest, and one of our team members can help guide you through the process of requesting hospice through your physician.

The Grief Survival Kit

Let yourself grieve. It’s important to let yourself take this roller coaster ride and feel your emotions rather than suppress them. No matter how hard you try to bury those feelings of grief, they will continue to resurface, and you won’t be able to truly move on. Start the healing process by giving into grief.

Lean on friends and family. Your friends and family expect you to be upset. While they may not always know the right things to do or say, they do want to be there for you even if it’s just to listen or offer affection. Never feel too proud or embarrassed to lean on them in this time of need.

Join a support group – online or offline. Whether you find a group through social media or in person, support groups provide ways to talk and listen to others who are in the same position and truly understand what you are going through.

Focus on the positive aspects of your life. The loss you are experiencing could feel like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and no one can change your mind. Despite this, what you need to do is reflect on all the good aspects that continue to bless your life and are worth pushing through the grief.

Keep yourself busy. Become more involved, go on a trip, try something new – participate in activities you enjoy and that can keep you focused on something other than your grief. Redirect your energy into doing things you’ve always wanted to do but never prioritized.

Breathe. If ever you find the grief to be too overwhelming, take a few deep breaths. The body’s breathing becomes shallow when we are feeling tense or stressed, resulting in insufficient oxygen to the body. This adds to the stress you are already feeling, so focusing on conscious, deeps breaths helps you relax and breathe normally.

Journaling Through the Grief

Journaling while grieving can help you document and process the feelings of grief you are experiencing. As you begin the healing process and reconnecting with who you once were, you may start thinking about or telling yourself things you would want to record. Putting these thoughts and feelings into words can be very beneficial and help in better working through the grief. This is why it is a great idea to keep a grief journal.

There are many, different ways you can start to fill up your journal. From creative writing and poetry to journaling and writing letters to your deceased loved one, each way provides you with a venue to communicate without fear of being judged. Opening up and disclosing your feelings to others can be difficult, but each of these methods allows you to express what you are feeling in a more personal, therapeutic way.

Research demonstrates that grief journaling after a significant loss has beneficial value. Experts explain that ‘reconstructing your personal self-narrative’ is crucial to the healing process. A grief journal can assist you in recording your experience, recognizing patterns, and establishing growth.

Are you interested in grief journaling but aren’t sure where to start? Here are some writing prompts to get you started:

  • Today, I am really missing…
  • I feel most connected to my loved one when I…
  • If I could talk to you again, I’d tell you…
  • My goal for this week…
  • I know I’m going to be okay because…

Work with Hospice of the Midwest – A Personal Testimony

“I just wanted to stop and take a moment and tell you all how wonderful everyone at Hospice of the Midwest has been.

The communication between your team and ours has been amazing! Your staff  keeps our team very well updated and they feel like you listen to their concerns. The staff has reported they have called “after hours” or on the weekend and have received pleasant and prompt service. It means so much to us to be able to rely on you guys for our residents’ needs knowing they will be met.

There have been many occasions when our resident has been in a “funk” but he still always enjoys seeing the ‘ladies in purple.’

Thank you all for all that you do!”

Checking Off Bucket List Items

At Hospice of the Midwest, we take the question, “What’s on this person’s bucket list?” quite seriously. When asked by our Medical Director, Dr. John Hamerly at an Interdisciplinary Group meeting, we looked to the next deserving hospice patient, Ellie. Ellie was an avid horse back rider all her life and best friend Trish (for 60+ years) was her companion on trail riding, camping, attending rodeos, and enjoying the great outdoors. Her bucket list item was something easy to accomplish; to see and pet a horse!

A phone call was made to Becky and Linda, who volunteer with River Valley Riders, a Therapeutic Riding program for people with physical and cognitive behavioral disabilities. ( Both agreed to transport (from Osceola, Wisconsin!) and be the Therapeutic Safety Supervisors for the visit at The Estates of Bloomington, where Ellie resides. During the visit, other patients, staff, and visiting family members also came to enjoy petting Rio, the Therapy Horse and posing for group pictures.

“Thank you for making this happen!  It has been such a blessing to everyone!” Trish told everyone.

Thank you to Hospice of the Midwest, RN Case Manager, Nora, Volunteers; Kevin for photography,  as well as Becky and Linda, for all the work of making this patient’s wish come true!

Choose Hospice of the Midwest – A Personal Testimony

“This whole journey started for me and my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, while we were staying at the hospital. There were quite a few residents on her floor who were using Hospice of the Midwest, so they were always getting to know other patients on the floor and being friendly as they passed by. When we decided we wanted hospice, it was good for my mother because she was familiar with them. I was also at ease because of their familiarity and having seen Hospice of the Midwest working with other families on the same floor. I knew I was going to be ready with open arms to them and their services.

Low and behold, as time went on, I truly realized how important hospice was. We all needed it; not just my mom. Hospice of the Midwest was so loving and always there for me, as the daughter of a patient. My personality is such that I can better cope with things the more I am aware of what is going on or what is going to happen. This takes away the uncertainty and unknown of how a situation is going to play out. You wonder what it is going to be like, but they gave me so much information and cared so much for my mother and me. I never felt like I was facing this situation alone, and I knew it would not be traumatic. I had knowledge. The power of knowledge, for me, helped in my mom’s passing. The last week I was prepared and ready to let her go.

There were many aspects I was pleased with – but there are a couple encounters that really stuck out to me. One day, all the nurses and staff who were working with my mother came in to do paperwork. Afterwards, we were all sitting in my mother’s room and they just wanted me to talk about my mom and what her life was like. They really wanted to know everything about her. It made me feel good to talk about her and tell what her life was like, and I could tell it helped them, too. This helped them know more than that she was simply my mother who wasn’t doing well.

Another moment that stands out with me was three days before she passed. As I said before – knowledge is power. I was there with my mom and it was clear she was very agitated and uncomfortable. It was very hard for me to see what she was going through and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay there. The staff was able to notice how I was feeling and gave me an explanation as to why this was happening. Ensuring they would make her more comfortable, they made sure I knew it would be okay to go home for a bit. They were able to read me like a book and I was so thankful they recognized what was going on and made me feel okay to go home. It was wonderful.

Each staff member’s personality was so great and the team was simply the best. They were people who should be working in hospice. My family was so lucky to have the team from Hospice of the Midwest and that they took the time to know us before my mother even needed them. We were very blessed – and I don’t throw that word around lightly.

I am not afraid to tell people that Hospice of the Midwest is amazing. The team was phenomenal. I cannot stress enough that knowledge is power. All that I learned throughout the process of my mom declining was very powerful and it was good power. It was not scary because I knew what to expect. I was amazed at the difference they made.

My advice is this: Don’t go through this and think you can do it by yourself. Even if you think you have it together, you really don’t. I’m so glad I had hospice directly involved at the end of my mother’s life. People need to take advantage of hospice and be encouraged to use it.”

B.T., Daughter of HOMW Patient

250 Reasons to Smile

Earlier this month Hospice of the Midwest partnered with Junior High students from Open World Learning (OWL) in the West St. Paul Art Department. Since then, we have received 250 handmade watercolor cards from their 7th and 8th grade classes!
The students learned about our hospice care through our Volunteer/Bereavement Coordinator, Nichole Paladie, with an informative presentation and Q&A session. In the following weeks, the students were then taught how to water color. Each student designed 4 cards and it was very evident the pride each student showed as they presented their finished cards to the staff.
This was a fantastic way for students to showcase their gifts and talents as well as doing outreach with the hospice community! Each patient receives a handmade card that includes a meaningful message from the student and a blessing from our staff.

Quilts for Our Hospice Patients

Check out this beautifully patriotic quilt! Isn’t it delightful?

Pictured is our Hospice of the Midwest – Minnesota team with a beautiful Army Quilt made specially for a military veteran patient. These very unique quilts are made by St. Peters Lutheran Church in Afton, MN and made possible by a very special donation from Thrivent Financial of Minnesota.

Again, thank you to St. Peters Lutheran Church and Thrivent Financial of Minnesota for providing these quilts for our patients. Every little bit matters in making them more comfortable and feeling at-home.