There’s no doubt that Bonita Stone, the bereavement coordinator for Indiana University Methodist Hospital Hospice, has valuable experience helping families prepare for a loved one’s end of life. However, she’ll tell you it was being part of a hospice care team as a family member that made a lasting impact in the way she serves patients and their families today.
Since 2008, six members of Bonita’s family facing terminal illness have used IU Health Methodist Hospital hospice services. Bonita had her first experience with hospice when an aunt transitioned to hospice care due to end stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The hospice care team—including a physician, chaplain, social worker, nurses and home health aides—provided her hospice care at home.
“My aunt wanted to be in her home,” says Bonita. “It was the home her father built for her family when she was growing up.”
The hospice care team also includes volunteers who spend time with patients when caregivers need a break, but Bonita says that due to the way her family chose to take advantage of the time left with her aunt, there was no need for volunteers.
“All of us came together and took time to be there with her,” says Bonita of the multitude of family members who rounded out her aunt’s care team. “It was nice to see the camaraderie—It gave us time to spend with her and with each other. Time was limited, so we were more purposeful about how we spent it.”
A focus on comfort
Bonita says hospice’s focus on patient comfort didn’t go unnoticed.
“My aunt asked me, ‘Why do I feel so much better now that I’m in hospice?’ I explained that she didn’t have to have go through the aggressive treatment anymore; the focus was on making her feel comfortable.”
Seeing the impact hospice had on their aunt’s life didn’t go unnoticed by Bonita and her family either.
“Before her, no one in the family had used that kind of care, so initially we were hesitant about it,” Bonita says. “It’s a hard decision to say ‘It’s time,’ when you don’t understand how hospice works. Now we understand that hospice has nothing to do with a patient’s timeframe; it’s about making the time left as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.”
When another aunt faced failing health due to cancer and other medical complications three years later, the family knew what to expect when she chose IU Health Methodist’s hospice services.
“My first aunt’s experience showed the difference hospice makes for the family,” says Bonita.
Like Bonita’s first aunt, her second aunt liked that she could be home and be comfortable. Just as important, Bonita says her aunt liked that she was involved in making decisions.
“She wanted to be part of planning her funeral,” explains Bonita. “Being able to participate in the process was important to her.”
A commitment to hospice care
Bonita says learning first hand about the compassion and comfort patients and families both receive with hospice care led other family members to turn to IU Health Methodist Hospice when they faced a terminal illness. The experience is also what eventually led Bonita to her current job, which she learned about while her first aunt was under hospice care.
Although she was working as a social worker for an insurance company at that time, Bonita says her experience as a bereavement volunteer at her church, combined with her new-found appreciation for hospice care piqued her interest about the position.
For seven years, she’s been part of the care team on the other side, providing the type of care and support her family received.
“Our work has a team approach that helps families prepare for death,” explains Bonita. “The hard part is accepting that a loved one isn’t going to get well. Our hospice team provides families the tools and resources they may need before and after death of their loved one.”