Hospice – Hearts Full Of Life

The sound of classical music in the morning and jazz in the afternoon . . . the smell of fresh flowers . . .the feel of a warm comfortable bed at night . . . the sight of words – on a crossword puzzle or filling the pages of a good book.

Theresa “Terry” Erickson’s wishes were simple. In short, she wanted to be comfortable; she wanted to enjoy the days of her 92nd year.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, Erickson, a former emergency room nurse, said she decided against chemotherapy.

It was Thanksgiving when Erickson was preparing to travel to Oklahoma for her grandson’s wedding. She started coughing. There was blood and the scans revealed she had lung cancer.

“I’ve always said I’d have Hospice. I didn’t want any chemo and I appreciate the care I’m getting,” said Erickson, who has three daughters –Lynn Gross, Glen Arbor, MI., Pat Cutter, Indianapolis, and Jeanne Erickson, Milwaukee, WI. – and 11 grandchildren. She met her late husband E.W. when she was an emergency room nurse at Mercy Hospital. He was a resident and went on to become a surgeon. They were married for 52 years when he died in 2002.

Erickson was living in Michigan at the time of her diagnosis and the family began making plans to move her to Indianapolis to live with her daughter Pat Cutter and her husband, Dan.

“Mom wishes to age gracefully. She has done that. She had started with hospice in Michigan and when we knew she was coming to Indiana, I wanted a smooth transition,” said Pat Cutter. Her first contact was Robert Lim, a chaplain with IU Health Hospice. “She arrived on December 26 and he was here on December 26. Services began immediately,” said Pat Cutter. Lim also helped connect Erickson with a priest and a local Catholic parish.

“Hospice deals with so many end-of-life issues. It’s an opportunity for a patient and family to talk about some of those concerns and work through the essential needs,” said Lim.

In addition to Lim, Erickson’s care team included a home health aid, a nurse, a social worker and occupational therapists.

“Hospice is care designed to provide patients and their loved ones emotional, spiritual, social and physical support when curative measures are no longer the goal of care,” said Gail Wind, IU Health Hospice Supervisor.  “The hospice interdisciplinary team helps patients maintain the highest degree possible of comfort, compassion and dignity. Additionally, bereavement services are offered to families and/or caregivers as they work through their grief and loss,” she added.

“They take my concerns to heart. They really want to know that I’m safe and how I am adjusting,” said Erickson, as she sat with her Hospice team talking about her care.  

Those concerns are different for every client. When Erickson left her Michigan home, it was important to her to return, clean out her apartment, and acknowledge the friendships she’d made. IU Health Hospice caregivers helped Erickson’s family connect with the Hospice team in Michigan so there would be no lag in Erickson’s care when she returned for a visit and there was emergency assistance readily available. 

For years, Erickson’s life was filled with travel with her husband and family members – trips to France and England, the Czech Republic, Italy and Greece. After her husband passed, she was known as the friendly visitor and an ambassador at her retirement community – conducting blood pressure checks and welcoming new residents.

It was difficult for her to leave because she enjoyed her independence. But Hospice made it easier for her to maintain some of that independence.

Occupational therapists helped the family improve Erickson’s day-to-day living – adding stronger lighting to illuminate her crossword puzzles and introducing her to larger printed books. They assisted with other adaptations too – adding bright-colored tape to mark steps and entryways, buttons on the remote control, and light switches. A home health aid provided additional companionship and assisted with daily hygiene. Weekly nursing visits included checks on Erickson’s blood pressure, medication, heart rate, and eating and sleeping habits.

Terry Erickson enjoyed a flow to her schedule. She woke up listening to classical music, drinking her coffee, writing in her journal, working crosswords, reading or listening to books on tape, and watching the world news. She communicated frequently with extended family and friends through cards and letters. She liked to keep doing the things she loved best.

“I wanted mom to come and live with us but I was also frightened,” added Cutter. “She brought so much to our lives. She loves plants and flowers, she plays wonderful music, she eats healthy fruits and vegetables and she’s taught us to be a little kinder and more gracious. We’ve spent time preparing favorite family meals and enjoying more conversation around the table. It gave us confidence to enjoy our time together because we have a team of professionals who have helped us every step of the way.”

Erickson passed away this week surrounded by her family.  Read her obituary here. 

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
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 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.