An empty seat will be at some tables this Thanksgiving, as it is the “first” of many gatherings without a loved one.
Linda Klinger, of Watsontown, will spend Thanksgiving with her two adult children and adult grandchild. Her husband, William “Bill,” passed away in March at the age of 76 after a two-year battle with prostate cancer.
This year he will not be there to make his famous gravy.
Bill was under the care of Hospice Evangelical during his final days. That same program continues to be available to Linda.
The program is designed to help celebrate life during those last days, weeks or months for both the one receiving care and the family as well.
This includes helping loved ones cope with “firsts” after the passing. Holidays are often the most difficult times.
Hospice Evangelical offers “Life After Loss,” group support during the fall and spring. The program helps family members learn coping techniques. The fall program wrapped up in October. The next opportunity will be offered in spring, 2019.
Hospice Evangelical reaches out to the grieving family on a regular basis over the first 13 months. The Life After Loss program is an additional opportunity for anyone struggling with grief over any period of time.
Cindy Moyer, licensed social worker for Hospice Evangelical, said a panel discussion was held recently to give tips to loved ones.
“We tell them to focus on what is different, not what is bad or sad. And we tell them not to beat yourself up and feel you have to do things as you always did or that you are not meeting expectations,” she said.
Moyer gave some examples, “Do you want to send cards? Do you want to have a big dinner? Communication is key.”
The big holidays are not necessarily the hardest, either. Kay Holdren, director of Hospice Evangelical, said other times of year that may trigger memories include birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or in the case of the Klinger family, hunting season.
Linda Klinger said her son, William Jr., has already been to the hunting cabin. She recalled last year as her husband was battling his cancer he insisted on hunting.
“He took 20 minutes to get up there, but he did it,” she said.
The family took a trip to the beach for the first time this summer without him. Warm days at home reminded them of Bill’s love for golf.
Holly Kyle, Bill and Linda’s daughter, said after his diagnosis in 2016, he delayed surgery to get his golf schedule completed.
Kyle is familiar with the Hospice Evangelical program as executive director of the Union County Agency on Aging.
Kyle was front and center for discussions about her dad’s care. Bill’s Hospice time was only one week. Typically Hospice comes into the home to provide comfort and care for up to six months.
However, Bill’s health declined much more rapidly.
The care team came into the home March 19. Bill breathed his last the morning of March 26.
“They were just wonderful,” Linda said, “The nurses who came in to visit and the one aid could not have been more kind.”
Kyle said she had recalled during her years with the Area Agency hearing an Evangelical employee describe Hospice Evangelical as “a celebration of life,” and not the hovering, black cloud of imminent death.
Though it was only seven days, Bill was able to joke with nurses, receive visitors and eventually slip away peacefully in his sleep in the early morning hours.
“The nurse who came to pronounce him asked if we wanted to reach out to our pastor, and so we did,” Linda said. The family had a private moment of prayer after Bill’s passing, something they will never forget.
There was ongoing open communication with Hospice team members and the family, which both Linda and her daughter loved.
Linda was particularly encouraged by the care of the team members in the weeks and months that followed. Linda, too, was already familiar with the program as she was a registered nurse in a long-term care facility and had watched a close friend go through Hospice care.
Linda became connected with a support group with the help of the program. The women have become friends and offer additional support to one another.
Bill understood Hospice Evangelical would be reaching out to Linda and his family after his passing. It is something that is explained in the initial discussion of Hospice care.
“For my Dad, it was an intricate part of his journey,” Kyle said.
And for Kyle, she was thankful for the availability of Hospice team members around the clock.
“They were always, always there for me. I would just pick up the phone. I had no reservations about calling,” Kyle said.
Moyer said that is the intent of the program.
“We want family to have a peace in knowing someone is always there,” Moyer said.
Eighty volunteers make up Hospice Evangelical and meetings are held regularly to discuss family needs, Holdren said.
Holdren credits her team of experienced nurses who work hard to provide “what is best for the family.”
Both Moyer and Holdren want families to understand that Hospice care is not meant to be a time of darkness and sadness.
“When the doctors tell you there is nothing more they can do, we are that ‘more,’” Moyer said.
As the Klingers sit around the table this Thursday without Bill’s dry humor, they will hold onto the hope they are never alone.
And Bill’s gravy will still be made. He taught his only grandchild, Dana, over and over again how to get it to perfection.
Dana, now an adult coming home from Nashville, is honored, her mother Holly said, to carry on the tradition.
“She will do the gravy on her own — just like her Pap taught her.”