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By Marilyn Henry

At a recent shiva call, I listened as a mourner told the sad story of her sister’s deterioration. “The hospice came in on Tuesday and she died Thursday.”

This is the traditional narrow view: that a hospice is a type of care that eases the last days of life.

A hospice can offer that comfort for the final days, but it is much more.

People with terminal illnesses – cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s – are eligible for hospice care for the last six months of their lives. If you can choose more comfort earlier, why wait? Many people apparently assume that a hospice means death is imminent, and many do not use it for long, or at all. There are many reasons: Some don’t want to know or acknowledge that the end is near. Many are afraid or superstitious about speaking of death. Others think that enrolling in a hospice means giving up on life, and that their doctors are abandoning them.

Cancer is sometimes seen as a disease that doctors treat and patients fight. Newspaper obituaries often report that someone died after a “battle” with cancer. It almost sounds romantic, until you learn that the battle may entail hospitalizations and toxic chemicals that often destroy the very quality of the life they are supposed to prolong.

A hospice offers a program of life, not a prescription for death.

“For too long, our classic definition of a hospice was that it offers patients death with dignity. But it is offering life with dignity,” he said. “Just because you have a life-altering illness which you’ve been told can’t be cured doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy things important to you – love of family, beauty of nature, the visual arts.”

Not only do hospice patients have a better quality of life in their final months, but their families recover more quickly, Vialotti said.

I am a lucky woman. I will choose a hospice, because as the Torah commands us in Deuteronomy (30:19), I choose life.

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