1. Muschlitz, Kelcie MSW, LSW

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On October 14, 2008, life as I knew it changed. My Grammy Norm was admitted to the hospital with Stage 4 liver cancer. We were told she had 6 months or less to live, and the treatment options would be mostly comfort measures. The oncologist explained that chemotherapy would give her a few more months with us if that was something she wanted. The moment my grandmother heard the word cancer, I saw her spirits diminish.


The next 4 months were a blur-medical appointments, the smell of Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer, chemotherapy treatments, tears, and prayers. I also remember the smell of Chanel perfume, and her wanting me to read one of her favorite books to her. On February 9, 2008, all treatment stopped and she was admitted to hospice. She had fallen the day before and was now sedated with a morphine drip. She looked frail and small, in bed with oxygen and a catheter. I couldn't believe she was the strong woman I knew as the matriarch of our family. I heard the "death" rattle in her chest and her irregular breathing. I laid in bed with her, kissed her on the cheek and told her, "Grammy, I love you," not even knowing if she could hear me. She opened her eyes and said, "I love you too." We stayed with her the next few days, singing, praying, providing sips of water, and letting her know we loved her.


My grandmother was the epitome of love-not only her family, but for anyone she met. Fittingly, she died peacefully on Valentine's Day, alone, with the sound of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" playing through her CD player in the background. That is exactly what she wanted. She had told us, "I want to die at home, without my family in the room," and she got exactly that.


Most individuals are not as lucky to be able to die this way, with a plan and knowing exactly what they want. I know many people are afraid to talk about death. In my professional role as a medical social worker, I try to start this conversation as soon as possible. If willing, I talk about five wishes, advance directives, and their plan of care. Some families are appreciative of my willingness to discuss this with them, whereas others are afraid.


After she died, I had the most vivid dreams about her. During these dreams, she would sing to me, or tell me that she was okay. The support of my family made the loss of my grandmother so much easier to accept. We celebrated her life, told stories, and shared laughter. We talked about the times she cheated in Scrabble, pretended to work out at the gym, or the taste of her strawberry rhubarb pie. Our family was able to utilize the coping mechanism of humor to help us get through a most difficult loss. Spirituality of faith and God also helped me. The thought of knowing she was no longer suffering and that God had needed her helped me look at the loss in a positive way.


Although my grandmother never got to see me get my driver's license, or graduate from high school and college, I am so very thankful for the time I was able to have with her. She always told me she could see me being a nurse because of my caring heart and wanting to help people. Nursing is definitely not for me because I get queasy at the sight of blood, but being a social worker is my calling. Medical social work, and working with those who are chronically ill are my passions. I want to give back and provide the support that the hospice social worker once showed me when I felt so lost. I know Grammy Norm would be so proud of me.