Geraldine Bartlett has been involved in hospice care her entire adult life. At 94, she is an unintentional pioneer in the service that is now helping her and her husband, Tom, 90, through the last stage of his life.
At 18, Bartlett was called upon to care for her dying grandmother.
"She had a heart condition and had to stay in bed and take shots. My mother and her sisters said they couldn't give shots to their mother. So I did," Geraldine said.
Bartlett was called on to help neighbors through their last days.
The father of one of her best friends was sick, and was supposed to take medicine. He refused to take it from anyone, so they asked Geraldine to help.
"I went in and told him if he took his medicine, I'd give him some whiskey," he said. "Well, he really liked his whiskey and said he'd do anything for me."
Family, friends and neighbors almost always cared for their dying in the past. Things changed, and the dying were sent to hospitals and nursing homes.
The hospice movement was born of a desire to return to the old ways, when the dying were allowed to stay at home with their family and friends around them.
Death, they believed, might be easier in a place where the individual was comfortable and surrounded by familiar sounds -- the purring of a pet cat, the ticking of a familiar old clock, the birds in the trees -- and smells -- a loved one's perfume, aftershave or favorite soap, a home-cooked meal.
And with hospice, the professional care provided is almost like that given by family, infused with love, tenderness and deep concern.
The depth of that concern is reflected in the fact that when the hospice program started in Payson in 1990 as Rim Country Hospice, it was an all-volunteer organization -- even the professionals. The nurses gave their time to care for the patients, said Kathleen Hughes, the service's community liaison. She said, among the people who launched hospice in Payson were Ray Frost, Robin Spidle, Darlene Mushell, Lynn Vigil, Ray Hatch, Doris Carpenter, Russ Bemler, Doug Waldrop and Ken Murphy.
"Ray Frost got the ball rolling," Hughes said. "He had a sister who died in hospice and he thought it was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen. People gave their time, money and energy to get hospice started here. We wrote grants."
Rim Country Hospice was purchased in 1994 by Respiratory Therapist of Arizona and became RTA Hospice, Hughes said. The Rim Country Hospice Foundation was then created to become the nonprofit arm of the organization.
Geraldine Bartlett and her first husband, Rensselaer Ward, came to Payson about 20 years ago and were among hospice's earliest patients. Dr. Ray Hatch diagnosed Ward with Parkinson's disease. Ward went into the Payson Care Center for a while, but then came home.
"Dr. Hatch called to ask if I needed help and put me into contact with hospice," Bartlett said. "They were wonderful and were helping me all the time."
Not only did the hospice staff take care of her husband's medical needs, there were others who came in and did the dishes, made the beds and more.
"When Tom got sick, we tried to do it ourselves for awhile, but when he lost the use of his legs, hospice came out," she said.
Hospice provided the Bartletts with a lift chair, supplies and, when Tom no longer had the strength to use the lift chair, a hospital bed was brought in for him.
"We want to keep him home as long as we can," Geraldine said.
There are times when he must have more constant care, so hospice will either send nurses out more frequently or provide transportation to the in-patient facility it operates on Mud Springs Road.
Tom recently spent a few days at Hospice House to get his medications adjusted, then was brought home again.
In addition to looking after Tom, the hospice staff provides for Geraldine, too. Hospice personnel take the time to visit and joke with her, provide for her needs and give her a shoulder to cry on.
"They're all wonderful girls," Bartlett said. "Everybody has been wonderful."
For the next few weeks, the Payson Roundup will look into the faces of those who journey through the last stage of life with RTA Hospice.Today. We introduce you to Tom and Geraldine Bartlett, who have allowed us to make the journey with them.June 8. We look at the hospice nurses, who dedicate their lives to helping others cope with the end of life.June 15. We will see how hospice care continues for the survivors, after a patient dies.