Finding new ways to honor passed loved ones during COVID

Gosnell Memorial Hospice House
Source: Hospice of Southern Maine

My father died in 2009 at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough surrounded by all eight of his children and my mother — his wife of 63 years. Had he died in 2020, because of COVID-19, it would have been an entirely different experience.

Gosnell is operated by Hospice of Southern Maine. At the beginning of COVID, Chief Executive Officer Daryl Cady says they instituted a fairly strict visitor policy at Gosnell, in line with what local hospitals were doing.

We were only allowing a couple of people in during a 24 hour period to see their loved one. It was difficult for everyone. It was difficult for the families, it was difficult for patients, and it was difficult for us. We know as well as everyone else, that being together at the end of life with your loved one, and being surrounded by everyone who’s important to you, is what is most important for everyone.

Daryl Cady, chief executive officer, Hospice of Southern Maine

Gosnell Memorial Hospice House
Photo by Christine Anuszewski

Daryl says they struggled with how they could make it better for everyone, but every day they had to tell people they couldn’t all go in. They did window visits and also brought people out to the patio, where more people could see their loved one. They put in iPads so that family members can talk to their loved one. And they decided to increase the number of people they will allow in from only two to between two and four, on a rotating basis. All the while they have been screening everyone who comes in.

We’re asking have you had a fever? We’re taking temperatures. And we’re asking where have you traveled from and so on and so forth. Because, again, we know that allowing people to be with each other at the end of life is the most important thing, and we don’t get a second chance at this. We’ve really struggled with that but I think we’ve done a reasonably good job. Is it perfect? No, but it is what we need to do during the time of COVID.

Daryl Cady

Providing bereavement services after a loved one has died, another important part of the care that Hospice of Southern Maine provides is also being done in a different way. Instead of continuing to offer in-person counseling or hosting a large bereavement group, they quickly moved to Zoom and FaceTime.

And what has happened is really quite amazing. We have now been able to offer bereavement services to families with loved ones from very far away. They’re all able to participate in those bereavement services with our grief counselors together through Zoom technology. I have not heard that people have not participated in grief counseling because of technology. What I have heard is that many, many people are participating. In fact, we’ve added an intern who’s helping us with grief counseling as well as a social worker, It’s working quite well.

Daryl Cady

Something else that worked out remarkably well was their annual Twilight in the Park event. It’s usually held outside in September at Deering Oaks, where people honor their passed loved ones by lighting luminaries. This year the event was held virtually — using Zoom and Facebook Live. More than 600 people participated. Here are some pictures from the event.

Twilight in the Park

In order to provide hospice care, both in people’s homes and at Gosnell, and bereavement services, as a non-profit organization, Hospice of Southern Maine relies on the generosity of donors. This year, they’re launching a new fundraising event called Hike for Hospice. And yes, it will be virtual. All you have to do is walk —wherever you choose and with whom. Now, while the weather is still nice or anytime during the month of October.

We’d been planning to have it be a hybrid event — in person and virtual —within the state guidelines, but as a health care agency, the health and well being of our community is always our first concern and top priority. So, out of an abundance of caution, and in light of the Maine CDC’s recent reports about an increased positivity rate, we decided to make it 100% virtual. We think it will be a fun way to support hospice care in southern Maine.

Daryl Cady

My family agreed and so we registered online and set up Bob and Beverley Swett’s family fundraising site. I’m delighted to report that we already have donors. We’re scattered around the country, but given that we don’t all have to be here in Maine, it’s more than possible to be a participant. And given our experiences with Hospice of Southern Maine and Gosnell House, it’s the least we can do. But anyone is welcome to join in, whether or not they’ve had a similar hospice experience.

If you’d like more information about Hospice of Southern Maine and its services and/or Hike for Hospice, here’s the link to the Hospice of Southern Maine website, and here’s the direct link to the Hike for Hospice event.

We’ve got the whole month of October to walk. So … no excuses, we can do it — go for a walk and raise a few or more dollars for a worthy cause. It should feel good on both counts.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.