The Final Chapter: Hospice Helps Survivors Open New Book

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Tom Bartlett, 90, died last Friday.

"Norma (Gilchrist) came in and I went into the bedroom to take my medicine," Geraldine Bartlett said. "Norma came for me and said, ‘I think he's going. You better come back.' So, I went back in. That was the start of a very long night."

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RTA Hospice Chaplain Lynn Richie visits with Geraldine Bartlett a few days after the death of her husband, Tom.

While Tom Bartlett's death ends the final chapter of his life, it does not end the work of RTA Hospice with his surviving loved ones.

Hospice removed the medical equipment and supplies it had used to care for Tom. Within 48 hours of his death, members of the hospice team assigned to his case contacted Geraldine, checking on how she was doing and if there was anything she needed.

Pastor Lynn Richie, the hospice chaplain on the Bartlett team, went to see Geraldine Thursday.

Richie has been with hospice for almost six years. He was introduced to RTA Hospice through one of his parishioners who was a patient. Through the course of her time with hospice, "the executive director saw something in me that made her ask me to join them," Richie said.

"When Pastor John Teubner and I first go in, we always ask about the patient's religious preferences and the spiritual support they have," Richie said. "We ask, ‘What is the source of your strength at this time?'"

Richie said their work is interfaith and nondenominational. Through hospice, they serve both the patient and loved ones.

"We're not there to bring them into any church. We're there to attempt to help them understand they are still a person of value. Frequently, the patient seems to feel a loss of value and worth and that they are powerless."

A hospice chaplain works to help the patient realize they are not their disease. "We try to bring them back to who they are," he said.

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Geraldine Bartlett holds a favorite portrait of her late husband, Tom.

Patients have a choice about whether or not a chaplain is on their team. In addition to working with their fellow hospice team members, the chaplains also work closely with the community's clergy, Richie said.

"It's a privilege to be invited to be part of a family at what I feel is the most intimate time of life. I can't speak of how great an experience it is," Richie said.

Allyson Danielson, the bereavement counselor with RTA Hospice, is the person who continues the care for the survivors for as long as they need it -- even if that means staying in contact with them until they also die.

She has been involved in hospice work for 25 years and with the Payson program for seven years.

Sometimes her work with survivors begins before the patient's death, helping them deal with the grief associated with the impending end of a loved one's life. However, that is something generally handled by the social worker and chaplain assigned to the patient's team.

Most often, Danielson's work begins with a bereavement intake made by the social worker on the team a couple of weeks after the patient's death. The intake form gives the social worker an opportunity to recommend what the survivor needs. Some survivors have enough support around them that no action is needed by hospice, though regular contact is maintained by an occasional phone call and monthly mailings for at least 13 months.

"We do whatever the family wants," Danielson said. This can include one-on-one counseling or group counseling.

The bereavement counseling Danielson provides and the spiritual support offered by the chaplains are not confined to the survivors of hospice patients.

"We do counseling for anyone in town, free of charge," Danielson said. The group sessions are also open to anyone. The next will be held in August, with information published when it is finalized.

Danielson's grief counseling is not confined within the walls of hospice house. She provides a program at the high school on a regular basis.

"The counseling department keeps a list of all the students who have been excused to attend funerals and when we plan a session, each of them are invited to attend," she said. Students from the middle school are also invited.

Her counseling includes sharing printed material, "Life After Loss" and "Experiences of Grief."

"Not everyone experiences grief in the same way. The information I give them are just mile markers, but they take their own path," Danielson said.

For Danielson, her work with hospice has taken on greater depth since the loss of her husband and a parent.

"I know what the survivors are feeling, what they're going through now," she said.

"And I know I don't have all the answers. But somehow we have been given this gift to put something back into the community. It completes the cycle of my life. It is what I need to be doing."

To learn more about RTA Hospice and Palliative Care, call (928) 472-6340 or visit the hospice house at 511 S. Mud Springs Road.

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