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Terry Peluso is seated, bottom right, alongside her husband and surrounded by grandchildren. Granddaughter Alison Samia is top right.
Terry Peluso is seated, bottom right, alongside her husband and surrounded by grandchildren. Granddaughter Alison Samia is top right.

Hospice Brings Comfort and Eases Anxiety for Grandmother and Family

Posted on May 30, 2024 by Alison Samia

When I was growing up, it seemed like my grandmother Terry – “Gram” – was always in a good mood. She had a way of lighting up any room she was in, along with everyone in it. Over the last year she would often tell me that I was her “sunshine,” and I would tell her she was my sunshine for so long, it was my turn to be that for her.

Visiting her as a kid was always the best feeling in the world. She would treat her grandkids with “cookie-gun cookies” and homemade pasta, build puzzles with us, sneak us scratch tickets, and take us shopping on Tuesdays (when she got her senior citizen discount).

Gram grew up in Lawrence and, as she would say, was very spoiled being the youngest of seven children. It was there that she met my grandfather. They were married for 65 amazing years, living most of the time in their home in Haverhill, where they raised their 3 children, including my mom and her two brothers.

Gram and my grandfather did everything together and losing him in 2017 was very hard for my grandmother. She felt like she couldn’t enjoy life without him here to enjoy it with, and we noticed she started to leave the house less and less. This included necessities like regularly seeing the doctor.

Searching for Care

Last Spring, when I stopped by for a visit, she had me look at a wound that was bothering her. It was clear that she needed more help than we could provide. But who would that be? Gram’s primary care doctor had retired several years earlier, and she wasn’t interested in leaving the house, especially if it meant urgent care or a hospital. It felt like if we took her to the hospital, we would be taking her there to die. That’s not what she wanted. We tried a few telehealth visits, but they didn’t give her the type of physical care she needed. We were at a loss.

For weeks, it felt like a full-time job trying to find the right solution, all while making sure that we cared for Gram as best we could. At one point, Gram said she didn't understand why a doctor can’t just come to the house like they used to. I told her that's not really how it works anymore, but just to be sure, I typed her matter-of-fact search term into Google.

Dr. Tina Waugh

That’s when we found Care Dimensions and HomeMD, even reading a story about a local doctor who visits her patients when they have trouble leaving the house. I called the next day, and to my surprise, they said they could send a primary care doctor out within a week. Even the demeanor of the person scheduling the appointment immediately helped ease my worries.

Dr. Tina Waugh visited Gram’s house and spent over two hours with us (including me on FaceTime). She sat right next to Gram on the couch and talked through her medical history and her needs. She showed a genuine interest in who Gram was and what she wanted. There was just something about her and the instant connection she made with Gram (who kept referring to her as “Tina”). Gram was fascinated that Care Dimensions was headquartered on Sylvan St. in Danvers, the same street where she worked when she was 18-years-old. During that first visit, Gram must have told Dr. Waugh about Sylvan St. 25 times, but Dr. Waugh politely responded every time like she had never heard it.

Hospice Comes to Help

It was during this visit that Dr. Waugh mentioned hospice. She explained to us that hospice doesn’t mean you’re dying tomorrow. It means you’re going to get the help that you need and deserve. Dr. Waugh said she could remain Gram’s primary care doctor, and then have a hospice team there, at her home, in a matter of days. Gram was always afraid to commit to anything, but more importantly, she did not want to be a burden on her family. She felt like this was a way to make sure that didn’t happen.

What followed next was truly amazing, if not a bit overwhelming. We went from having no help to LOTS of help. Nurses and aides started stopping by the house. A social worker called to see what we needed and provided many resources that would become so helpful down the road. A chaplain called. They even offered Gram pet therapy visits (which she didn’t really understand, telling me, “Why would they give me a dog? I can barely take care of myself!”)

They all assured us, if a question came up, no matter the day or time, that we could call someone and get an immediate answer. I sort of took this with a grain of salt, but as time went on, I realized this wasn’t just something they said. They followed through on it everytime.

Gram was on board with all of this. She was so taken by Dr. Waugh during that initial visit that if we said the visitors were “with Tina”, she welcomed them into her home. To her, they were less like medical providers, and more like friends coming over to chat. In fact, she used to say she would rather they just come to talk instead of helping her with this or that. 

While Gram didn’t get out much, she wasn’t bedridden. She was still moving around the house, still washing her own dishes, folding her own laundry, and even vacuuming up her scratch ticket shavings. Gram did not want to burden others with household chores (or anything else). She would sometimes remark that surely all the help she was receiving was for someone sicker than she was.

Building Relationships and Trust

I watched the nurses and aides interact with Gram those first few months and she was always happy to see them. Often, they would stay longer just to chat with her. Before long, I started to notice Gram would say “love you, be careful” as they left. That is what she said to her family. 

She would see a regular clinical team during the week, and then often a different care team on the weekend. They would tell me things like “I hope I get to see her again” and “She just made my day a whole lot better.” I loved seeing others getting to experience Gram’s “sunshine.”

Anytime we needed something to help make Gram more comfortable, we got it. Care Dimensions eventually brought her a hospital bed, which she reluctantly accepted and then almost immediately wished she had gotten sooner. She was not on any pain medication for most of her time on hospice. And when the time came to talk about medication, it was a thoughtful discussion centered on what was best for Gram’s comfort. This was always a concern of mine because we wanted Gram alert and aware, but also pain-free. Care Dimensions helped us manage that right until the end.

About four months after our initial visit, things started to become more challenging. Gram’s wound was harder to manage, and she became frustrated by her decline and dependency on others for help. The hospice staff were beyond patient. Even when Gram pushed back on care options, they did everything they could to keep her as happy as possible. We briefly talked about moving Gram to a hospice house, where she would get round-the-clock care. But Gram had always wanted to stay home. I wasn’t sure if we could honor those wishes, but Gram’s primary nurse, aide and the entire team at Care Dimensions went above and beyond to bring in the resources we needed. They adjusted her care plan so that we could keep her home. After being on hospice care for seven months, Gram passed away peacefully in her bed, at home, holding my hand. Just like she wanted.

Reflecting on the Journey

I remember saying to my mom throughout this whole experience: I knew hospice existed, but I had no idea just how many benefits hospice could bring. There were so many people coming in and out of the house. They not only helped her, but also supported our family: educating us about what was happening and preparing us for the next steps.

The care team was always so respectful, and we created strong relationships with them over those months. I don’t want to paint a picture that everything was easy. These times were filled with challenges and anxiety, but I cannot even begin to imagine how much worse that would have been without the help of Care Dimensions.

I know a lot of people think hospice is giving up. It’s not. Gram was 94 years old and had serious health needs. Calling for hospice made her final months more comfortable at home, surrounded by those who love her. We are so fortunate to have found Care Dimensions and the amazing people who work there. Gram used to always say “If I had a million bucks, I would give it to these people. They work so hard, and they deserve it!”

Learn more about hospice with Care Dimensions.

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