At Hospice of the Piedmont, we’re acutely aware that hearing the word “hospice” can be frightening. The misconception that hospice solely pertains to the end of life overlooks its remarkable potential for crafting vibrant, memorable moments. For that reason, we love to share the many examples we see of patients who are challenging popular opinions and embracing the hospice experience.
So, when one of our Death Doulas told us about one of our hospice patients heading to a rock concert, we knew we had to hear this story.
The Soundtrack of a Lifetime
Phyllis is a lifelong music lover. Music was always there for her, accompanying her through life’s ups and downs.
Although she acknowledges that she hasn’t been to a lot of concerts, she’s “been to some pretty damn good ones.” And she’s not kidding — she saw Janice Joplin live in a roller rink in Arlington, Virginia, in 1968. “That was most excellent,” she says.
Phyllis has lived all over the country – Florida, New York, Idaho, Pennsylvania – but she raised her children in Louisa, so that feels like home.
“I had two small children. I was divorced and just struggling to get by – and I just listened to a lot of music. I didn’t have a ton of money for going out. But I entertained myself at home. And the kids were a handful. They were entertainment in themselves.”
In reflecting on a favorite, one band rises to the top of her list. “I just always enjoyed The Eagles. I really always loved them.”
One More Concert
Phyllis began receiving hospice care in late September. Shortly thereafter, she saw a sign announcing an “On The Border – The Ultimate Eagles Tribute” concert at the Louisa Arts Center. Unfortunately, they were sold out when she’d investigated tickets online.
“I thought, well, maybe they’ll come back, or maybe there’ll be another concert. But my life is getting to a point where I can’t wait for too many more concerts. You know what I’m saying?” She feared her concert experience was Already Gone.
When experienced fully, hospice can be about making wishes come true. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson may have popularized the idea of “The Bucket List” in their 2007 film, but at Hospice of the Piedmont, we’ve been helping people find moments of joy in their last chapter for more than 40 years.
A Wish Fulfilled
Discovering the concert was sold out prompted Phyllis to talk with her daughter, Jackie, and her HOP Death Doula, Meredith, about things she wanted to do while receiving hospice care.
“We talked about going to Jamestown. We talked about the fact that I’ve never eaten Cold Stone Creamery ice cream. And we talked about this concert that was coming, how I wanted to see a live band again. When you’re like me in a wheelchair, you don’t get to a lot of bars and live bands. That just doesn’t happen,” says Phyllis.
So, Meredith decided to Take it to the Limit and contacted the Louisa Arts Center. Evidently, the concert was not completely sold out. They still had one handicapped-accessible ticket left and could sneak in an extra chair for Jackie. The Louisa Arts Center graciously donated the tickets. Check one item off the bucket list.
A Favorite Song?
The Eagles formed in Los Angeles in 1971 and recorded six studio albums within the decade. Their iconic style defined 1970s southern California folk rock with hit songs like “Hotel California,” “Take it Easy,” “Already Gone,” “Take it to the Limit,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
With so many hit songs to choose from, we had to ask Phyllis: What is her favorite?
“Life in the Fast Lane,” she replies.
For those unfamiliar with the hit 1976 song, it is a banger. Energetic. Catchy. It’s also worth mentioning that the lyrics are… shall we say… not entirely quotable if children are around. The song describes a life of excess and thrill-seeking but also suggests that such a lifestyle comes with its own dangers.
“I lived a lot of my Life in the Fast Lane,” says Phyllis. “Not as exciting as the song. But I was on the edge a lot, and I can relate to that.”
Perhaps realizing her daughter is sitting a few feet away, she clarifies, “Maybe it was just Life in the Fast Lane in my head, more so than in reality, because I wasn’t out there doing drugs and running up and down the roads in fast cars. I lived in Louisa, for goodness sake! There wasn’t a whole lot of fast-lane life going on here. But I related to it in my mind. My mind would take me there – that sort of wildness.”
There’s something miraculous about the way a song can transport us. When Phyllis was younger, it connected her to a wilder side of her personality. As we grow older, music connects us to our past.
As life took an unexpected turn with a challenging diagnosis, Phyllis faced decisions about the path ahead. She is 70 years old. She has COPD. She is also – to quote a lyric from her favorite song – “terminally pretty.”
She explains, “The doctors had already told me that there was nothing they could do for my condition except treat the symptoms. But they’re doctors in hospitals, and they want to run tests and poke me and prod me and see how much I can breathe, and I’m like, I don’t want to do that anymore,” she explains. She chose instead to Take It Easy.
She continues, “So, we decided hospice is the way to go because all the doctors come to me, and all the nurses come to me. I don’t have to go out there. I don’t have to have those tests.” Her wildness peeks through momentarily as she teases, “The doctors whine if you don’t take their tests.”
Explaining to the Family
As is often the case, not everyone in her family had a Peaceful, Easy Feeling about her decision to enroll in hospice. “My grandchildren were really upset when they found out I was going to be on hospice,” she explains.
It seems her youngest grandchild knew someone who entered hospice care, and they died the next day. “And so, that’s the connotation she’s got: When you go on hospice, you’re going to die.”
It took some time, but Phyllis is persuasive. Eventually, she helped her family see that life on hospice would not be a Wasted Time. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to die right away. It just means that I don’t have to be miserable while I’m waiting for it.”
Enjoying the Present Moment
Liberated from the confines of medical procedures and hospital visits, she’s free to savor the present moment.
We reconnected with Phyllis after the concert to ask about her experience. “The band was great,” she says. “I was dancing in my wheelchair! For days afterward, I had Eagles songs running through my head.”
So, does she feel like she’s still living Life in the Fast Lane now?
“In some ways, I am because it’s a whole new adventure. I don’t have to really concentrate on the end of it. I can just enjoy the ride. My mind is still living life in the fast lane. My body can’t quite keep up, but I still rock out.”