How 1 Hospice Eases Pain of Final Goodbys

Associated Press

The smiling faces of healthy young children help soften the pain of terminally ill patients at the Connecticut Hospice, a way station on the journey to death.

A preschool for town kids is separated from the patients’ rooms by only a picture window and a hallway.

The hospice founders planned it that way.

“We want to say to the world that death is very much a part of life and children are very much a part of life,” says Rosemary Johnson-Hurzeler, president of the Connecticut Hospice, which opened in July, 1980, the first of its kind in the United States.


For the terminally ill--among them a few weeks ago an artist, a woman who worked at Woolworth’s, a plumber--the children are among their last remaining connections to life.

And so now, this gathering of the old generation--the artist, the five-and-dime clerk, the plumber--watch the new generation make faces in the window and play on the patio.

Fifteen girls and boys, 3- and 4-year-olds, attend the preschool, some of them children of staff members.

to make ends meet--95% of them are nonprofit, Bates said.


Patricia O’Neil, a liaison nurse at the Merrimack Valley Hospice in Andover, Mass., said that 90% of patients in that program die at home. “I think that’s really important, because in order for that to happen, you need a lot of support and intensive visits.”

Hospice patients range from the very young to the very old. At Merrimack Valley Hospice, many patients are in the program only a few days. It is a step people are naturally reluctant to take, since it means “a real acknowledgment that you’re finished with looking for a cure,” O’Neil said.

“We can be very low key,” she said, “but there has to be some understanding, at least from someone in the family, that the prognosis is limited.”

Patients, she said, may not be afraid of death, but of the process of dying, and a hospice program can comfort them about that.