Faith Hospice Witnesses Terminally Ill Patients’ Inner Strength, ‘Amazing Stories’

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Trillium Woods cutline 235(left to right): Rene' Wheaton is Faith Hospice’s administrator and Vila “Vi” Daniel is its chaplain. Faith Hospice chaplain Vila "Vi" Daniel has witnessed first hand terminally ill people end their final days on Earth with an expectation that their lives will indeed continue after leaving this mortal coil.

"I think the bottom line is that they feel a presence, they feel God is in their midst," said Daniel recently at Trillium Woods, 8214 Pfeiffer Farms Drive SW in Byron Center. Trillium is the residential hospice center of Faith Hospice, which is Holland Homes' hospice care division.

A daily average of 208 patients are in Faith Hospice's care. A small fraction of them receive end-of-life care at the 20-bed Trillium Woods, a 57,700-square foot facility that is in the shape of a cross. Faith Hospice's other patients live out their final days in their homes, assisted living and nursing homes, trailers or motel rooms — wherever patients call home.

Go where the patients are

Faith Hospice assisted 1,500 terminally ill patients in 2015.

"Wherever they are, that's where we go," said Rene' Wheaton, Faith Hospice's, administrator.

"Trillium Woods is a place that's available for people who don't have somebody who can take care of them in their home or their care needs are more than what they (family members) can manage," said Daniel. "Some people under our care are younger people, or their spouse needs to work, or they have kids at home and they need a different place to be other than a nursing home."

"It's not that they have expectations of healing, continued Daniel. "It's really a presence; it's giving them an inner strength and with the different (religious) traditions the promises and expectations definitely helps them to go from life to life. Death is a passage way."

A glimpse of eternity

And before they pass from this life to the next, Daniel said she has seen people catch a glimpse of what awaits them.

"We see hands raised up, people who say things: 'I see Jesus,' or 'Jesus was here and then He left. Why did He leave?' We see them at the very end when they're active and raise their arms up and a huge smile comes on their faces. They're amazing stories."

Faith Hospice is interfaith, meaning it accepts terminally ill patients of all faiths or no expressed faith, including Roman Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and various Protestant traditions.

Spiritual assessment is key

Daniel said she does a spiritual assessment with each patient to discern their wishes for their final days. Once admitted into hospice, people live an average of 40 days, though that's just an average.

"It's God's time, and we don't know what God's time is," said Wheaton.

"Once they're in hospice, our goal is to help them to live their lives out the way they want to live it," added Daniel. "Our goal is they live their life they want to live it, they die the way they want to die. When I have a visit with them I listen to them and they tell me what they want and then they let me know the ways I can help them meet their needs."

Who's eligible for hospice?

Hospice is for anybody who has a life expectancy of six months or less, said Dr. Patrick Fitzgibbon, Faith Hospice's medical director. There are in Michigan 10 in-patient hospice facilities like Trillium Woods.

Trillium Woods cutline No. 2Trillium Woods is Faith Hospice’s residential hospice center.Such facilities are vital to terminally ill patients who cannot receive end-of-life care in their homes because of health issues that include delirium due to diseases such as dementia, said Fitzgibbon.

"In patient hospice facilities are very difficult to keep open financially but they serve a huge need," said Fitzgibbon. "This facility serves a need in the whole West Michigan area as the place of last resort for many, many people."

Determining what patients desire for the final days often entails allowing them to talk it through, according to Daniel.

"Sometimes they don't know what they want, they just want to talk and sometimes by talking, they figure it out," she said. "They find their way a lot through conversation."

Never lose control of health care choices

It is highly important at Faith Hospice that patients do not feel they are strong-armed into making decisions they do not want to make, according to Daniel.

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"People don't know what hospice is, by and large, and they are scared," said Daniel. "I remind them they never lose control of their health care. They can still decide what they want. Once they're in hospice, our goal is to help them to live their lives out the way they want to live it. Our goal is they live their life they want to live it, and they die the way they want to die."

Faith Hospice's staff includes nurses, social workers, physicians and chaplain.

"We intentionally hire people where their heart is — you can't teach somebody to care for somebody you can't teach somebody to have compassion, you either have it or you don't," said Wheaton. "I could teach hospice care and we do that a lot, but they have to have that heart to want to help people."

A cadre of volunteers provide services that run the gamut from haircuts, to companionship to families and patients, to Eucharistic ministers, cookie makers and quilters.

"Dying is a very sacred time," said Daniel. "Our staff always feel very honored and privileged to be around the family during that journey. To be trusted that way means so much to the staff. Often people wonder what's the right way to do this and there is no right way. It's what's most meaningful to them."


Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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