‘A special kind of caring’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Toward the end, when he no longer talked of getting better, &uot;Pres&uot; Hasberry was haunted by fears of spending his last days alone in a nursing home among strangers.

He wanted to die at home in Marion Junction, surrounded by family. &uot;He used to say, ‘I’m never going to get better. I’m going to a nursing home,’&uot; recalled Fanny Hasberry, his wife of 43 years. &uot;I told him, ‘You’re not going to any nursing home. I’m going to take care of you.’&uot;

President Hasberry Jr. died April 20, 2001. Thanks to the efforts of Wiregrass Hospice, an old idea updated for these times, he died peacefully and with dignity, at home in his own bed.

Email newsletter signup

And thanks to the efforts of Wiregrass Hospice staff and volunteers, Fanny Hasberry’s memories of those last days revolve not around late nights spent in sterile hospital rooms, but around the laughter of grandchildren and precious moments spent with the only man she ever loved.

The modern hospice movement has sparked a quiet revolution in medical care over the last half century. As medicine has grown increasingly high-tech and impersonal, many patients have responded by demanding a greater measure of control over their own care &045;&045; and especially over the circumstances of their own death.

Hospice recognizes that patients who are dying, as well as their families, have social and emotional needs in addition to medical needs.

For people like Fanny Hasberry, that has meant the difference between experiencing needless trauma over the death of a loved one and experiencing death with dignity.

With assistance from Wiregrass Hospice, Hasberry was able to continue caring for her husband right up to the end &045;&045; long after the time he would otherwise have had to seek care outside their home.

Now Hasberry’s mother, Arlene Boggs, is dying. Once again, Hasberry has turned to Wiregrass Hospice in an effort to make her mother’s last days as comfortable as possible and to help family members to cope with her impending death.

She agreed to share her experiences with the hospice program.

Pres and Fanny Hasberry met and fell in love while they were still in school. Theirs was no fairytale romance, though. Fanny admits they had their disagreements early on. Nothing serious, just the kind of adjustments that every couple goes through.

Having experienced death tends to make you honest about things like that.

Pres was a painter. He ran his own business and took great pride in his work. &uot;He loved painting,&uot; Fanny said. &uot;I used to paint with him some … until he got sick.&uot;

When she wasn’t helping Pres paint, Fanny cleaned other people’s houses to bring in a little extra money. They never had much in the way of material possessions, but they kept five kids fed and clothed and 35 years ago Pres bought Fanny her very own house. She lives there still.

She blames Pres’ exposure to paint fumes and his lifelong habit of smoking for the respiratory problems that plagued his final years. &uot;I think it kind of got to him, doing all that smoking and inhaling all those fumes,&uot; she said. &uot;He just about lived in the hospital toward the end. He would go in for two weeks at a time, come out, stay a little bit, then go back in.&uot;

They lived that way for nearly 15 years. Finally, the day came when Fanny and Pres could kid themselves no longer. Pres was dying. During one of those interminable hospital stays, Dr. Park Chittom Sr. suggested that Fanny contact Wiregrass Hospice. He said they might be able to help.

A cynic might dismiss that as chance or happenstance; Fanny prefers to think of it as divine intervention. At any rate, she’ll tell you that making that call changed their lives.

After an initial needs assessment meeting, staff members from Wiregrass Hospice organized a care plan to help Fanny shoulder what &045;&045; almost unnoticed &045;&045; had become a soul-numbing burden.

Hospice nursing staff monitored Pres’ condition and made sure he had proper medication. Home health aides helped to bathe him and provide personal care and to change the bed sheets. Hospice staff made arrangements for the medical equipment and supplies he required.

And during the long nights when Fanny just needed a shoulder to cry on, they were there for that, too. Some nights, because they had become almost like family, they cried along with her.

By assuming much of the burden that goes with caring for a terminally ill patient, the hospice staff gave Fanny time to reconnect with her husband on a more personal level. No longer exhausted by the physical demands of caring for Pres, she was able to devote her energy to simply sharing this final phase of their lives together.

Not to mention domino games and late-night card games with the grandchildren. (&uot;He always accused me of cheating,&uot; Fanny huffed.) And endless westerns &045;&045; his favorite &045;&045; on TV. (&uot;The grandkids would tease him, ‘Have you been watching the horses again, granddaddy?&uot;) Never given much to talking in his younger days, Pres took to chatting for hours on the phone. (&uot;He called just about everybody he could think of.&uot;)

But, as they knew it would, the day came when Pres no longer had the strength for late-night card games or talking on the phone or for doing much of anything. Fanny watched him slipping away and braced herself for what she knew must come.

The end came quietly. Fanny went out to get something from the car, and when she returned he was gone.

There were tears. Of course. Even now, after more than a year, the tears are apt to come unbidden whenever she thinks of him. But they are tears of longing, not of regret. Hospice had given Fanny and Pres time to make their private peace with death.

For that, she will always be grateful.

Not long ago, Fanny called the gospel radio station and dedicated his favorite song just to him. They played it and called his name out over the air. She likes to think that, somewhere, Pres Hasberry was listening and that he smiled when he heard it.