Bringing Life and Love to Kathy’s Final Weeks: Her Family’s Hospice Story

In remembering his mother, Kathy Beharrell, her son Brian says she was first “all about her family and after that, all about her work.” A 27-year Cashier/Manager at the Cherryhill Shoppers Drug Mart, Kathy loved having her sister, Joy, just a few blocks away and Brian and his young family living right around the corner. Wednesday night suppers and rollicking games’ nights were weekly rituals for this close knit clan.

However, life does not always go as planned and Kathy became ill. Even though doctors advised her to be admitted to the hospital, on August 18, 2018, the day her daughter Emily was to be married, Kathy was determined to attend her daughter’s wedding. That night, Kathy watched the ceremony with tears in her eyes, gave a beautiful speech at the dinner, and danced the ‘mother-daughter’ dance with Emily, with the support of her walker.

Proud mother: Kathy celebrates with her daughter Emily and son Brian

The next morning, she followed her doctor’s advice and went to the hospital, where she and her family heard the prognosis they’d all been dreading. Without hesitation, Kathy’s newlywed daughter put aside her work and school and joined Brian and Joy to make Kathy’s life at home as comfortable as possible in the time remaining to her. The family still came first and foremost.

It was a difficult time. At home, Kathy was confined to one chair. To go outside, she had to be carried. Nights were the worst, Emily recalls. “I didn’t sleep. We had a baby monitor so I could hear her call out. I would just lie there waiting for that baby monitor. It was such a hopeless feeling. If something happened, what would I do?”

It was after Kathy’s chemo doctor told her he could no longer help her that she met with Dr. Hertzman from St. Joseph’s Hospice.

Joy commented “I knew when I met Dr. Hertzman for the first time that if we could get a room at St. Joseph’s Hospice, Kathy would have the special care she needed and deserved. Hospice gave us that and so much more.”

After that meeting, things happened at lightning speed, with Kathy entering Hospice at 2 pm the very next day. Joy remembers: “It was tough and emotional at first – she didn’t want us to leave her. But thanks to the wonderful staff, within five hours she was fine.” The following morning, when Joy arrived to visit, Kathy had already had a bath and was up in her wheelchair, smiling and ready to start her day.

And what a day it was, as Kathy enjoyed her first-ever manicure and got her hair done. Joy says emphatically, “At Hospice, Kathy LIVED for six weeks” coming to life in a new way. And with ten-hour days spent at Hospice, Joy also benefitted from massages in the Wellness Centre.

The family time continued as they spent hours together, with marathon puzzle sessions in the Great Room, surprise fish and chips deliveries, and sometimes time spent in a quiet nook for deeper conversations. When the grandkids came to ‘Grandma’s new apartment’, they always found toys, cookies and chips waiting. Kathy’s beloved cockapoo, Stella, also made herself right at home. Kathy’s family packed countless happy memories into that six weeks, from their festive Thanksgiving dinner in the Hospice meeting room, to the sweet nightly routine of putting Kathy to bed. “She especially loved the warm blanket that staff brought her.”

A family Thanksgiving at St. Joseph’s Hospice

Emily exclaims, “What are the chances that every person here is amazing? The staff were incredible. They handled everything.  All we had to do was spend quality time with our mom.”

The family never wanted Kathy to be alone, and there were constantly people there for her. “We had to limit their visits to 30 minutes because Kathy got tired, but it was a steady stream. Many visitors were astounded to learn that we didn’t have to pay for this –  that it was all free.”

As Brian said, “At Hospice, we were still home. Home is not walls.”

Emily says, “We really weren’t planning to have kids so soon, but Mom said, “I worry about you. You need to have a baby.” It was a little impulsive, but that’s okay. Mom was the first person we told. I remember her face – she was so excited.”

Being so early in the pregnancy, Emily asked Kathy not to tell anyone yet. But “Mom slipped up … a lot.” Emily smiles, “Basically, she told everyone, all the nurses, all the PSWs. She would say, “Oh, and I think I told this person… and this person.” She was so proud.”

Every morning Kathy would Facetime the kids. But then, on the morning of October 31, she was silent. “That was the start”, said Joy. Again, the staff were right there to make Kathy comfortable.  Even off-duty staff dropped by to see her. Joy commented “You could tell that they all genuinely cared about her. ‘Angel’ Donna (RN) bathed her and kept us informed about what was going on. The staff patiently walked us through Kathy’s passing. And afterwards, they were still there for us. Many even came to the visitation.”

Kathy passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospice on November 1 at 10:30 pm, free from pain and surrounded by her loving family. Her third grandchild, Emily’s baby, was born on May 3, 2019.

I have no regrets. I couldn’t have asked for more. There was nothing that wasn’t done.”

– Joy

“My mom was happy and safe and that was all we wanted. She was happy in herself, even in her final day.”

– Emily