A Way to Say Goodbye



In the photograph that her daughters hold, Ellen Aanenson stands in her front yard next to her husband with hand on her hip and a mischievous smile across her face.

The image is the way they will always remember the 89-year-old woman, who lived for her family, treasuring the time she could spend with children, grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren.

When it was time for her to say goodbye, she was surrounded by the people she loved the most at The Cottage, Sanford’s hospice residence in Luverne, her daughters say.

“We may not have been ready for her to go, but she was ready for that to happen,” says her daughter Marlene Kopp, the treasured picture of her parents in her hand. “We couldn’t have done better for her than bringing her to Sanford Hospice.”

A need for care

The Luverne family hadn’t thought much about hospice care before Ellen’s final days. The small, but vivacious woman lived her life independently and fully. Her five adult children, including two daughters who live in Luverne, one in Magnolia and another in Brookings, SD. rarely had reason to worry about her health.

Ellen had been married 55 years to Norman when he died. She continued to live independently for another nine years, active with church and social groups, driving and doing her own shopping, until a few months before her death.

A few brief hospitalizations made it clear that she was no longer able to care for herself. Eventually, her family reluctantly admitted her to a nursing home for 10 days. They knew the end was near.

“All she wanted was her grandchildren and her children around her, but she had lost interest in everything else,” says her daughter Jean Hoven. “We wanted her to be someplace where she would be comfortable.”

It was a difficult time for the family. They knew their mother was failing and losing weight, but both Ellen and her family had a deep conviction that the nursing home was not the right environment for her.

Exploring options

During those days that Ellen lived in the nursing home, her family searched for options. They thought that hospice care might be an option, but didn’t realize that they could seek out that care without a doctor’s referral.

At a family friend’s suggestion, they contacted Sanford Hospice Luverne. After a brief assessment, she was approved for end-of-life care. When her daughters toured the four-bedroom hospice cottage, they knew it would be the perfect place for Ellen.

“There was no doubt in any of our minds that this was where she needed to be,” says Jean.

Her sister Marlene added, “That first night she told us, ‘this is really beautiful.’”

Ellen spent her final ten days being lovingly cared for by hospice staff, her daughters said. Nurses and other caregivers treated her with dignity and took care of everything she needed, from baths and backrubs to combing her hair and cooking baked goods to tempt her appetite. They even helped arrange visits from her pastor.

“They not only took care of our mother, they took care of us too,” says Marlene, who works as a surgical nurse in Sioux Falls. “It’s a special kind of care.”

Just like home

The facilities felt like a home, not an institution, say Ellen’s daughters. Their mother had a private bedroom and bath. Meals were cooked specifically for her in a kitchen onsite.

There was plenty of room for her daughters to stay overnight with her every day, sleeping in a queen-sized sofa bed in her room. Family members also had access to separate private rooms set aside for overnight stays.

Large living rooms, a front porch and backyard garden provided the atmosphere and space needed for her 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren to spend time with Ellen and say goodbye, her daughters said. Everyone in the family appreciated the gentle, calming feel of the facility and the people who cared for Ellen.

“We could come and focus on spending time with her, knowing that the hospice staff would meet her every need,” says Marlene.

“There is no one who could have taken care of her in the way they did,” responds her sister, Jean.

Ellen’s daughters encourage other families to take the initiative to call hospice staff for an assessment if they think hospice care would be helpful for their loved ones. It’s important that families realize they don’t have to wait for a recommendation from a doctor to seek out this kind of care, they said.

“She gave us a lot of love and nurturing all the years we were growing up,” says Jean. “It meant so much to nurture her, to show her that love, even at the end.”

Posted Date: September 2012

A Way to Say Goodbye

Nothing was more important to Ellen Aanenson than family. When she needed end-of-life care, Sanford Hospice helped her end her days surrounded by the people she loved.