When it came to having a role model of love and devotion, Becky McNabb of Clayton, Ind., didn’t have to look far. Her parents, Jerald and Nancy Petro, of Liberty, Ind., were married 56 years. Throughout the last 15 years of their marriage, her father cared for her mother, who had survived a cerebral hemorrhage, but had eventually lost her ability to talk and care for herself. Jerald cared for Nancy at home, despite living with chronic lung disease himself.
“He spoke for her, he did everything for her,” says Becky.
Eventually, however, his condition worsened, and in March 2013, he developed pneumonia and within three days, passed away.
“One of the very last things he said to me was, ‘I hope that your mom doesn’t wait very long to join me in our next adventure,’” remembers Becky.
Finding the right care
After living only a week in an assisted living facility after Jerald’s death, Nancy suffered another cerebral hemorrhage. She was transferred to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, where despite surgery, her prognosis was not good. She was unconscious and on a ventilator.
Becky, her brothers, Pete and John, and all of their spouses, were faced with a decision.
“We had to decide whether to take her off the ventilator,” says Becky.
Because her mother had a living will, however, she had already made the decision for them.
“She would have never wanted to live like that,” Becky says.
They honored Nancy’s wishes and believed it would be only a short time before she passed away. But it wasn’t.
“There was some reason why she stayed,” says Becky. “I had so many discussions with my dad, asking him why he didn’t come get her.”
They decided to transition Nancy’s care from cure to comfort, and she was transferred to a unit where nurses specializing in end of life care work alongside IU Health Methodist Hospital hospice staff.
It didn’t take long for Becky to know they had made another right decision.
“The minute we walked in her room the first time, I saw an angel that someone on the unit had made out of beads pinned on my mom’s gown. At that point, I knew we were in a good place,” recalls Becky.
Taking care of the entire family
The staff and their care continued to confirm that time and again as Becky spent every day on the unit with her mother.
“When you’re there all day everyday, the staff gets to be like family members,” says Becky. “They knew at that point, it wasn’t really about my mom anymore, it was about us. What they provided for us, as family was the most wonderful part. They knew everything to do.”
Like the day nurses greeted Becky as she stepped off the elevator and could see she was having a bad day.
“Before I even said anything, they were calling the chaplain,” says Becky.
They also knew to encourage Becky to take care of herself, which meant taking a break from being at her mother’s bedside. It’s why on her mother’s 16th day of hospice care, Becky and her husband went home for the night. But they received a call telling them Nancy’s time was short; they needed to come back.
“I had to be there,” says Becky. “They knew when to call.”
Nancy joined Jerald 11 weeks after he began his “next adventure.”
Becky now wonders if perhaps the reason her mother “stayed” as long as she did is so Becky could get to know the people working with IU Health Methodist’s hospice care.
“They were just so kind,” says Becky. “They’re all there for the same reason. Everyone working there had a parent or someone who had died who had gone through hospice. If you’ve been there, you’ve done it; you know how it is.”
Becky works as a nurse, but had never seen herself working in hospice care. Now she’s not so sure.
“Maybe it’s what I’m supposed to be doing—being there for someone else,” she says. “Maybe someday. It may be that reason I’m looking for. We’ll see.”