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A Peaceful Reconciliation


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A Peaceful Reconciliation

Many of us hope we will feel a sense of peace as we approach our final days on this earth. Hospice professionals witness both patients who pass with a sense of calm and patients who struggle until the very end.  This blog, submitted by AseraCare Regional Vice President Gary Walker, discusses how each one of us have an issue or experience in our lives that could impact the peace we feel during our own end-of-life journey.   

A Peaceful Reconciliation 
Written by: Gary Walker

Beyond everyone's expectation, Bill continued to take a shallow breath grasping at another second of life. The team who cared for him over the last few months sat with concern, holding his hand and letting Bill know that it’s okay – it’s okay to let go and find peace. 

In nearly 25 years of caring for the elderly, I’ve seen a care team begin a new day expecting to hear that a resident or patient that they knew passed peacefully during the night but somehow continues their struggle instead. The nurses wonder why this patient is waiting. Is it an anniversary, a holiday or the arrival of someone special? What could it be? 

Sometimes it would reveal itself as in when a son finally made it to the bedside after taking the red eye from across the country. A few moments after his arrival, peace fills the room as mom or dad slowly lets go to find their peace. Sometimes we just never knew. I hated when I never figured it out and saw someone who continues to be restless, never finding the peace they needed. If only I knew, I could have done something.

Then, I had an epiphany. During the last year, our AseraCare teams have become skilled caring for dying Veterans. As a Veteran who served in Saudi Arabia and Iraq during Desert Storm, I personally was vested in being a provider who served this population well. I have sat in classes, listened to experts and spent hours learning the nuances that make the dying process different for a person who chose to serve our country. One evening as I prepared for a meeting with the Veterans Administration, it became clear. Soldiers have had experiences that were placed upon them where there lingers a reconciliation gap. When left unaddressed, this gap leaves the soldier in a state of distress.

Gary served in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm.

How would you feel if you were asked to kill for your country? Now as you are facing mortality, you fight death in fear of what might be in store in your next life. What if there were never opportunities for reconciliation? This example may be extreme, so think of the other side effects of war – a country who didn’t welcome you home as in the case of Vietnam veterans, or not being able to adapt to civilian lifestyle then alienating those around you or using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with the memories you try to erase. Even homelessness sometimes is a choice because if you have nothing, there is nothing left to lose. All of this leaves a trail of heartache and loss of peace. One of the most important elements of your care plan towards the end of life is to create a personal reconciliation plan.

Gary Walker with a Veteran patient.

Then the second epiphany happened. Everybody has their “something.” Everybody has the one thing that can be the difference between a peaceful end or a battle against it. Was there something left unsaid? Was someone left not knowing how much they were loved? Or could the person just need to know they really mattered in this world?

Having conversations about what having a peaceful final chapter looks like for a person could be one of the most important conversations a family member or caregiver could have with their loved ones or patients. Asking a question as simple as, "If you could have a ‘do-over’ on something, what would that be?" might open a conversation that was needed but no one knew how to start it.

When you ask the question, be prepared to listen without judgment. Take notes on what it would take to create their reconciliation, and then help put the pieces together in a plan. This plan can enhance the overall plan of care and could be the one thing that, if left unattended, would cause the kind of ‘pain’ no medicine could remedy.

Everyone deserves peace. Everyone deserves to help write their final chapter.  Sometimes we have the privilege to be asked to join this journey. This task we cannot take lightly. Ensuring this life chapter includes a reconciliation plan can change the ending sentence to, "and that is how they found their peace" instead of just “The End.”

Gary Walker began his career in health care as a nurse aide providing direct care in a skilled nursing facility in a small farming community in Minnesota.  He found his passion caring for the elderly and launched a career as a Nursing Home Administrator, that later included Regional Leadership.  He finally found his niche in hospice when he was given the opportunity as an Executive Director of a hospice program in Denver, Colorado. 

Gary accepted his next challenge as a Vice President in the Southwestern United States for a national hospice company.  He is currently the Regional Vice President of Operations for AseraCare Hospice and Palliative Medicine and is based in North Carolina covering the Mid Atlantic and Southeastern parts of the country. 

Gary is also a veteran and served for 12 years in the Nebraska National Guard as a flight medic for the 24th Med Air Ambulance Co based out of Lincoln.  His unit was activated during Desert Shield/Desert Storm where his team flew several medivac missions in an active war zone.  He is determined to be a voice for veterans and to continually work to provide meaningful hospice services tailored to meet the needs of not only veterans, but to all hospice patients.  AseraCare Hospice worked diligently in 2014 to bring all of their agencies to Level 4 partners of WHV to show their commitment to providing end of life care to our nation’s heroes.

Learn more about AseraCare.

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