Doug - a hospice patient - sits in a chair with a blanket on his lap looking out at the ocean from a cruise ship balcony

Embracing Life’s Final Voyage: How Hospice Enabled One Couple’s Dream Cruise

When Doug enrolled in hospice care, his wife Stella knew they had to act fast to fulfill one of his wishes – to take one more cruise together. Far from a somber final chapter that most people associate with hospice, their voyage proved to be a joyous and meaningful experience.

“He had been wanting to do it for the past couple of years, and then when we got into hospice, I said we got to do it now,” Stella recalls. The couple, who had enjoyed several cruises over the years, set sail from Baltimore on a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean.

Seeking Guidance from Their HOP Nurse

Ilona, Doug’s RN Case Manager

Their Hospice of the Piedmont (HOP) RN Case Manager, Ilona, was instrumental in making their dream a reality. “They were a little nervous asking about the trip,” she says. But Ilona was optimistic; she told them, “I don’t think we’re at a place where we’re homebound yet. I think you guys are still able to go.”

Ilona helped them prepare for the trip by ensuring they had the proper education and tools to manage it, “I wanted them to feel prepared and confident that they could handle it.”

Assembling a ‘Tool Kit’ for Adventure

Recognizing that cruise ships require a good deal of walking, Ilona assessed Doug’s ability to walk longer distances by having him walk around his house. Realizing that walking more than 30 feet left Doug short of breath, she recommended they take a wheelchair.

Ilona also prepared them for the journey by ensuring they had all the necessary medication and advising Doug to take them in advance. “I said, ‘Let’s see how he responds to these medications before the trip to make sure if something happens, we know this will work, and he won’t have any side effects.’ I wanted to make sure they were prepared and had some tools in their tool kit.”

After a couple of visits over less than two weeks, Ilona felt comfortable sending them on their way. She told them, “I want you guys to enjoy life to its fullest.”

Something to Look Forward To

Contrary to the misconception that hospice is only for the final days of life, Doug’s experience on the cruise demonstrated the remarkable ways it can expand our horizons.

Stella noted that the trip seemed to reenergize her husband, saying, “When we were preparing to go, he had a little bit more energy then, and his appetite was a little bit better. He really had something to look forward to.”

Allowing Others to Help

The logistical hurdles of organizing a cruise for someone in hospice care may sound daunting, but the couple had lots of help. Stella’s son and daughter-in-law drove them to the port of Baltimore, so they didn’t need to worry about driving or getting a hotel room.

Additionally, the couple informed the cruise line of Doug’s situation in advance, and Carnival helped ensure everything went smoothly. “The ship was extremely cordial to us. We had almost no lines to wait on,” says Stella. “Our steward always checked on us to see if there was anything we needed,” she adds.

A Relaxing Hospice Cruise

On previous trips, the couple would take full advantage of the cruise’s activities, like dancing and onshore excursions. This time, they opted for a more relaxed pace.

Aboard the cruise, each day unfolded with beauty and simplicity. “Absolutely nothing,” responds Stella with a laugh when asked about their activities on the trip.

The couple reveled in the simple pleasures of watching the scenery from their balcony on the 7th deck. “It was a very laid-back, relaxing, enjoyable trip,” Stella says. “He could just sit out on the deck most of the day and just watch everything. I think he enjoyed that more than anything.”

Although repeatedly getting on and off the ship was too challenging, the couple made the most of their time onboard, including enjoying the meals. “He thoroughly enjoyed their meals and meeting so many different people from different walks of life,” she says.

Stella’s Advice

For Stella, the trip served as a poignant reminder of the profound impact hospice can have in enabling patients and their families to make the most of the time they have left. “Don’t put it off. Do it,” she advises others in similar situations.

Stella also had advice for anyone thinking about hospice care. “Don’t be afraid of hospice. It’s not just the last. It’ll carry you through,” she says.

“I don’t know what I would have done without the support and knowing that at any given time, when something unexpected comes up, and you don’t know what to do, you can just give them a call. Knowing that support is there is so helpful,” she adds.

Living Fully

In the face of a serious illness, Stella and Doug embraced life to the fullest, savoring the simple joys found at sea. Far from being a time of sorrow, their voyage demonstrated the power of hospice to enrich the lives of patients and their loved ones, even in the final chapter.

“That was about the last thing on his bucket list,” Stella says softly, a testament to the couple’s determination to live fully in the time they have left.