Published November 2003 in The Messenger,
The Newspaper of the Belleville Catholic Diocese
Margaret Hettenhausen is not afraid to die. Lying comfortably in a chair in her own home, she strokes her beloved cat, Missy, and says, “I’m not afraid; I’m ready.”
Two months ago, Hettenhausen was driving a car; today she is unable to walk without support. The 92-year old is suffering from ovarian cancer. She may live two more days – two more years.
“I didn’t think I’d live this long,” Hettenhausen says. “It’s God’s will.”
Morphine reduces her pain, various medications calm her anxiety but the companionship she receives from Sara Sprouse is the most comforting.
“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Hettenhausen said.
Sprouse, a nurse from Hospice of Southern Illinois, visits Hettenhausen twice a week to make sure she is comfortable – physically, socially and mentally.
“We do a lot more social visits than physical visits,” Sprouse said. “In a sense, we are their link to the outside world.”
Hospice of Southern Illinois was established in 1981 through the efforts of the late Sister Mary Simpson, ASC. The program aims to provide comfort for the terminally ill an dtheir families through physical, social, emotional and spiritual care. It is one of two not-for-profit hospice agencies in the area. Family Hospice is the other,” Sister Leona Luechtefield, ASC, said.
Sprouse said she finds her work rewarding and has always felt a strong connection to the patients and their families. “It can be hard – you get attached,” Sprouse said. “Once they pass, I can see that they are in a better place.”
Through the program, Sprouse said that the terminally ill are “able to enjoy what they have in life and die with dignity.”
Sprouse said many of her patients have accepted the fact that they are going to die and have found peace. Margaret Hettenhause has found comfort in the support of her friends and family in addition to Sprouse and the visiting nurses from Hospice.
“They are so friendly; just like your own family,” Hettenhausen said.
Family now surrounds Hettenhausen as she welcomes death. She feels the love and support of her children and their families – her two sons, Dan and Jim, daughters-in law, Delores and Maggie and her daughter Pat.
They are working together with Hospice to take care of this ailing, fragile woman who has been the backbone of the family for so long; the one they call mom.
She is also “mom” to those at Our Lady of the Snows shrine where she worked for 22 years as a housekeeper and at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital where she volunteered in the gift shop. “I was mom to everybody,” she says with a smile.
It’s that smile that Sara Sprouse said she looks forward to seeing each week. “Something has brought me here – I’ve always felt drawn to Hospice.”
She will be with Hettenhausen and her family until the end.
“She’s at peace,” her daughter, Pat Fox, said, holding back tears while looking at her mother. “It’s hard for us, but she’s ready to go.”
– Shannon Philpott