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Moments of Grace
Robert Mihelbergel taught English for 36 years, touching so many lives in his community in Buffalo, New York. Near the end of his life, he also volunteered his story as a way to teach others about choosing hospice, and what that decision meant to him and his wife.
“There’s nothing more I can do,” were the words spoken by Sharon Mihelbergel’s oncologist just three years before her husband Robert heard them, too. Once her lung cancer stopped responding to treatment, Sharon’s doctor recommended Hospice Buffalo. Robert remembers the hospice team supporting his family and helping Sharon stay at home. “With their guidance, we learned to feed her when she could eat, laugh with her when she could laugh, and cry with her when she cried. I was holding her hand the moment she took her last breath. If a husband has to lose the wife he dearly loves, better to say goodbye at home under the care of hospice nurses, aides and doctors. I was blessed to be able to have her home with me until the last moments of her life.”
Once again, hospice came to care and support Robert and his family when he was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2014. Robert underwent numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. When he was advised a cure was no longer likely, he “wondered if there was any chance of getting my quality of life back while I was still alive. I knew at that moment it was time to call hospice.”
With the help of hospice, Robert also celebrated and cherished those final moments of his life at home with those he loved.
Robert’s son Eric and his family moved in to his home, enjoying family dinners together four to five times a week. Robert led them all in ‘saying grace.’ His granddaughters were able to laugh and play around his hospital bed in the living room. And both Eric and his wife were educated on acting as Robert’s primary caregivers as his illness progressed.
The hospice staff provided both medical expertise and compassion, and Robert felt he had a crucial ‘safety net’ in place. “When I was having trouble sleeping, they started me on medication, and now I am sleeping through the night again. When they see I am having trouble coping, they call in a social worker or chaplain to counsel me.”
“By sharing this information about the services I am receiving, I hope I am helping families who have to make a decision about what they would like to do when their loved one is ill and is in need of hospice care.”
Robert Mihelbergel died at the age of 68, five weeks after the filming of this rather typical family dinner… made extraordinary by the fact Robert was able to enjoy it, in his own home, surrounded by the people he loved. By sharing this story, this lifelong teacher has helped dispel so many fears people have about choosing hospice: that it means leaving home, that patients must forgo all medical treatment, and that hospice means just lying in bed, waiting to die. That simply isn’t true.
“If I inspire others to call hospice, I know I have made a difference,” he said.
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