The Joy of Living as Shared by a Hospice Patient


April 10, 2012—Another Hospice volunteer and I sit at the bedside of an animated, talkative 97-year-old African American woman whom I’ll call “Louise.” Her thin face is haloed with a white cotton turban, and her eyes sparkle with good humor. She tells us that she fell in her home and broke a hip, the first broken bone in her long life and her first time having to go to a hospital. She was able to reach the phone to call for help, and she waited quietly lying on the floor until her sister arrived.


While the doctors were examining her, they found that Louise had metastasized cancer. Today she reminisces about picking cotton and corn as a child on her family’s riverside farm in the small town of Edna, Texas. Louise never married, but after finishing elementary school, she worked as a housekeeper for a couple who moved north to Chicago. When the husband died, she followed the ailing wife to a retirement community in Florida and cared for her until her death. Nineteen years ago, Louise moved back to Texas to be near her extended family. She lists the names of her siblings and nieces and nephews, and gives us their birth dates. When I asked the date of her own birthday, she boasts, “I’ll turn 98 on April 21.” She says, “People tell me that I have lots of stories to tell.” Joan and I assure her that she surely does. Louise still has a group of friends whom she wants to notify about where she is. Some are in nursing homes, and they still manage to stay in touch.


April 17, 2012—Louise is delighted to see me again and asks me to switch off the TV that the nurses have left on for her entertainment. She’d much rather chat and regale me with the same stories she told me the week before.  She is excited about her upcoming 98th birthday party on April 21 and tells me she always hoped she’d live to be 100. When the preacher from her neighborhood Baptist church arrives to pray with her, she treats him with deep respect. I leave them to their prayers and encounter Anne, the social worker in the hallway. She says that Louise is too healthy to stay at the inpatient unit of Hospice, and that paperwork is in motion to have her transferred to another facility.


April 24, 2012—I notice a bunch of shiny balloons still inflated on the ceiling in one corner of the room. Louise tells me about her cousins, nieces, nephews and step-sister escorting her in a wheel chair to celebrate her birthday in the courtyard with soup and ice cream and other soft foods “that I can eat with my dentures.” I hear all about the music and presents and laughter, and suddenly Louise is quiet. We both realize that the party’s over and that unless a miracle occurs it’s the last birthday she will celebrate.


I ask if she’d like me to read her some psalms. Louise responds, “Whatever you do for me, honey, I accept gratefully.” But before I reach for her Bible, she recites aloud by memory part of Psalm #23 and the entire Lord’s Prayer.  She confides, “I say those words every morning as soon as I’m awake and repeat them at bedtime, when I send prayers to any loved ones who are especially needy.” Louise reminisces about singing spirituals in her Baptist-Methodist farmland church. I sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho and Amazing Grace with her, and she chimes in, with a grin on her emaciated face. Afterwards, Louise admits, “I can’t sing worth a darn, but if someone else is singing, I can’t help but join in. I don’t understand the words to modern songs, but those spirituals bring me right back to my childhood.” Just as I’m leaving the room, a hospice volunteer named Loretta visits with her 4-pound “therapy dog,” Gigi—small and gentle enough to cuddle up next to Louise, who claims to be frightened of big dogs.


May 1, 2012—I arrive with my guitar to accompany our spirituals, eager to see Louise, and I’m stunned by her transformation. She is asleep in her bed, without all the pillows that usually prop up her back. Her body looks tiny, and now that her mouth is free of dentures, her face is shrunken. She is breathing so lightly that her chest barely moves. I decide to sing quietly at her bedside. She makes no response, and I hope that the familiar melodies are reaching her on a subconscious level. I realize that once her 98th birthday party has come and gone, and everyone she loves has shown up to honor her, Louise is ready to let go of life. She is tired and doesn’t want to be transferred to a long-term care facility. Silently bidding her farewell, I slip out of the room. I know that it’s likely that this is my last view of her. Louise has given me the gift of her joie de vivre, and I feel grateful to her.

–Houston Hospice volunteer, Ginger Clarkson


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Thuy Hanh Trinh, MD Earns Fellow Status from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine

Hanh Trinh Photo white background 11-2013

Thuy Hanh Thi Trinh, MD, MBA, FAAFP, WCC, of Houston, TX, recently earned the designation Fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. The Academy is the professional organization for physicians who care for patients with serious illness.  Advancement to fellowship status within the academy honors dedication to and scholarship in the field of the hospice and palliative medicine. This distinction represents a minimum of 5 years of membership, participation in AAHPM activities, letters of recommendation, and board certification in hospice and palliative medicine.


Dr. Trinh is Associate Medical Director at Houston Hospice in Houston, Texas. She received her medical degree from Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans and trained in family medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.  Following residency, she completed her geriatric fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine and her palliative medicine fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She joined Houston Hospice in 2007 and serves as the Education Liaison.

She will receive the designation during the Annual Assembly of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association in San Diego, California on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s membership includes more than 4,900 physicians and other healthcare professional committed to improving the care of patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. Since 1988, AAHPM has supported hospice and palliative medicine through advancement of clinical practice standards, fostering research, providing education, and through public policy advocacy.

To learn more about Houston Hospice please visit www.houstonhospice.org.

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Expansion of the Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center Becomes Reality


Ribbon Cutting in Spring 2014

The expansion of the Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center became a reality in 2013 with the build out of the third floor. The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the end of April and construction on the third floor began in May. Forney Construction, the primary contractor of the project, completed the job in October. Patients began occupying the third floor at the end of October. Thanks to the philanthropic community and the employee’s response to the capital campaign who made filling this need possible.

Renovations for the first and second floors are expected to be completed by Spring 2014. This completion along with the third floor build out will provide an additional
12 patient rooms at the Texas Medical Center facility. This allows Houston Hospice to be more effective in serving patients and families. 

To find out more about the Houston Hospice capital campaign please visit www.houstonhospice.org.


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Houston Hospice Capital Campaign Video: Dianne Gilbert, RN, PCM


Construction is well under way on the Houston Hospice Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center, but we still need your support. Twelve patient rooms are being added to our third floor to allow us to provide inpatient hospice care for additional patients. In the clip above, Mark Howard, Houston Hospice Financial Development Committee Member, interviews Dianne Gilbert, RN, PCM about why she thinks the additional inpatient space is needed. Dianne interfaces with patients every day and knows firsthand the impact the additional rooms will make. Gilbert said, “At 3 in the morning when I get a phone call that there is someone at the end of their life or there is someone in great pain . . . we need to be able to bring those patients in so that we can help them control their pain or provide them comfort in their final days.” Gilbert sees between 40-60 patients weekly.

For additional information about the capital campaign please visit www.houstonhospice.org.


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Celebrate Hospice Month

Houston Hospice Volunteer Pam Poole

 The month of November has many different observances. From Native American Heritage to Pancreatic Cancer Awareness, the ways to honor  November are endless. We are choosing this month to honor Hospice and those who dedicate and provide others with exceptional hospice care.   

  Each November, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC)celebrates National Home Care Month, National Hospice Month and Home Care Aide Week to honor health care administrators, nurses, clinicians, therapists, aides, homemakers, chore workers and companions who make a remarkable difference in the lives of patients and their families.[1] This year’s theme for hospice month is, “Loving Care at Home When You Need It Most.” This theme will focus on caregivers who take on the responsibility and stress in assuring their loved one is comfortable.

One way to honor Hospice Month is to honor a caretaker. Being a caregiver is one of the most difficult tasks a person will ever have to face. Caretaking can last as short as weeks and as long as many years. Caretakers must re-organize their priorities in order to give their loved one the best care they can. The added stress can lead to neglecting their spouse, children, job and even themselves. Caretakers never have a moment of peace because if something happens to their loved one off their watch, then they feel guilty.

If you know someone who is a caretaker be sure to take this month to honor them in a special way. It doesn’t have to be something extraordinary, but something little. A card encouraging them to keep up the good work can mean wonders to a stressed out caretaker. Offering a set of ears for listening or a shoulder to cry on can show support and provide comfort to caretakers.

Another way to honor Hospice Month is to volunteer at a local hospice. Most hospices need help with a variety of tasks from visiting with patients to helping out with administrative work. At Houston Hospice we have volunteers who provide our patients with musical and pet therapy as well as volunteers who water our plants. Remember, even the smallest gesture can make the biggest difference.

And finally, one of the greatest ways to participate in Hospice Month is to spread the word and educate others about hospice care. This can be done by talking to friends and families about how hospice affects you. Spreading knowledge and sharing insight of your own hospice views and experiences can change a life unexpectedly. 

Whether it’s a day, a week, or the whole month, remember to acknowledge that one of the many observances of November is hospice care. Showing support and pride will not cost you a thing. If you are proud November honors hospice, wear a burgundy ribbon to represent all who dedicate their services to hospice and caretaking.

[1] National Association for Home Care and Hospice

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Stop and Listen

Photo by Peter Kaminski from Flickr


When friends or family members approach us with a problem they are facing, one of our first reactions is to start talking right away. We either start spitting out phrases of love and support or we start giving advice. Although this is a common reaction coming from a good place inside ourselves, it’s not always the appropriate reaction. We need to stop and listen to our loved ones.

When someone comes to us with a problem, our first instinct is to make the person feel better right away with a loving or supportive comment. While this seems like the correct thing to do, we do not realize we’re not listening completely. The wheels in our brain are turning to find the right thing to say instead of listening to every word and emotion our friend is expressing.

One good way to start being a better listener is to eliminate all distractions while a friend confides in you. Choose a quite setting such as a living room or dining room. Make sure the TV is completely off along with other electronics. Turn your phone on silent and allow no extra guests or pets in the room. Be sure to face your friend and make eye contact unless that makes him or her uncomfortable.

Sometimes, our body language can mean more than our words. Feed off the energy your friends present and let your actions follow respectively. Lean in to show you’re listening if you’re loved one is speaking softly. Pat the back of their hand if they seem hesitant to share their feelings. Showing your loved ones that they have your undivided attention means more than saying they have your undivided attention.

Remain calm by taking deep breaths and focusing on the person. Sometimes our loved ones can drop a bombshell on us and our mind races into panic mode. When that happens, our thoughts become hazy and the loved one no longer has our undivided attention. If bad news breaks, repeat in your head, “I’ll worry about that later—what is my friend saying right now?” Having this calming presence will help your loved ones feel safe and composed.

Listening is a skill that takes much practice. Having a busy agenda can make people forget how to listen effectively. Remember to practice this skill with the people in your life in everyday situations. Ask friends to tell you about their weekend. Do not speak until they are completely finished, and then see what all you can repeat back. This fun exercise can help sharpen your listening skills and prepare you for when listening matters the most.

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What Does Hospice Mean to a 23-year-old?

Garden at Houston Hospice

I started working at Houston Hospice about a month ago. When I told my friends that I was interviewing for the position available here, their first reaction was, “You want to work at a hospice!? That sounds depressing.” For me to say that I didn’t think the same thing would be a lie. I had no idea what to expect because I’ve never been to a hospice before. I was familiar with death after losing many close friends and relatives, but I wasn’t used to death being accepted and peaceful.


A few years ago my grandpa died after fighting many years of being sick. He was over 90-years-old, had both legs amputated, and died weighing about 80 pounds in a nursing home bed. I’ve always struggled with this and wondered why we were trying to keep him alive. When he would be in hospital, he would talk to his mother, his father and siblings as if they were in the room. My grandma had passed away a year before and he seemed ready to be with her. The nursing home he stayed in was horribly depressing and it was hard for me to visit him.


Everyday at work, I wish my grandpa could have died in a place like this. The calm energy, the painted rooms and the warm staff would have made such a difference for my family and me. Working at a hospice has made me realize that death can be a peaceful process and not to fear it.


No 23-year-old wants to think about the possibility of dying because we feel our lives have just started. But when we can accept death and not fear it, then living is more valuable to us and the important things in life become apparent. Family and friends are put before money and possessions and the simple things rule over the extravagant things.


Working at a hospice is far from depressing—it’s an eye opener. Everyday you see bravery, love and peace. I feel lucky to witness these actions daily and to no longer fear death. And in a hectic world, it’s nice to see human compassion every day.

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ABC’s Beyond Belief, The Other Side

Wednesday night ABC aired an episode called The Other Side from their new summer series Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief. In this episode, ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff interviewed people who have died and then come back to life. Woodruff has been curious about this topic since his own near-death experience in Iraq in 2006.


One of the most interesting parts of this episode was that three of the people Woodruff interviewed were from the Houston area. I thought this was interesting and their stories hit closer to home for me. Three of these hair-raising stories were from not only Americans, but Houstonians.


Woodruff interviewed people such as Rev. Don Piper of Pasadena from Pasadena who died for an hour and a half after a head on collision with an 18-wheeler in 1989. Piper wrote a book about his experience in heaven called 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life.


Other people interviewed from the Houston area included Erin Smith from Montgomery who was shot at age 17 and Houston therapist Mary Jo Rapini who suffered a brain aneurysm. Rapini has written a book called Is God Pink? Dying to Heal after she experienced a pinkish glow and heard God’s voice in her death experience.


Hearing these people’s stories was very touching and personal. Currently, I work at a hospice and death occurs almost every day. To hear stories from others who have witnessed peace after death is comforting for me. I’m sure this episode helped family members and close friends who have lost a loved one and are grieving. You can watch the full episode right here.

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The American Perception of Death

This photo was taken by jimmedia at www.flickr.com

Over the past 100 years, the word “death,” in American culture has almost become a politically incorrect term. Think about it. What do people usually say after a death? He is no longer with us. He has passed away. He is in a better place. Rarely, do you hear someone say, “he has died.” Why is this? Are we being sensitive to the subject, or have we become afraid of the word death?

 Different cultures and religions around the world have their own views about death. Most religions believe a spirit leaves the body after death and moves on to another place such as heaven or reincarnation. To acknowledge this act, most cultures have a strict ritual that takes place to insure the spirit has the appropriate journey to its final destination. 

Within the past 100 years, the process of how people live out their final days has changed. Before, loved ones would pass away in the comfort of their own homes and families. A couple of close family members were primary caregivers and they used their own medical cures and treatments rather than a doctor’s. The modern healthcare movement has placed more terminally ill patients in hospitals instead of the patients’ home.

 With the rise of hospices in the nation, it seems Americans are trying to learn how to accept death rather than defeat it. A hospice is designed to treat the patient, not the illness. This simple idea relieves a lot of stress from the patients and their families because the victory in a hospice is not beating the illness, but accepting it, along with the death that follows.

 Getting to the point of accepting and understanding death is something that can only be done through communication and education. Having someone close to share your emotions and beliefs about death without sparking a debate can help you become more comfortable with the subject. Also, educating yourself about cultures’ perspectives of death can help enrich your understanding and help bring closure.

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