Byron & Frank's Hospice Experience
On the first anniversary of his partner's death, Byron Murray decided to give something back to the hospice that had helped him cope. Byron and Frank had been together nearly three decades. One November night in 1995, Frank came home and said he had a spot on his lung. Three months later, in the middle of February, Frank died at 56 of lung cancer that had spread to his brain.
When Frank came home to break the news that November evening, Byron began to cry. Frank told him this time he couldn't help ease his pain. "He just turned his life over to me to handle," says Byron. After 28 years together, "he was on his own journey."
Byron took a leave of absence from work and cared for Frank around the clock. Frank's prognosis was bleak; persons with the kind of lung cancer Frank had typically have survival rates of four to six months. Frank nonetheless wanted chemotherapy, which left him feeling weak and nauseated.
Waiting for a Miracle
Byron is a spiritual man and he had always hoped a miracle would save his partner. A friend who had also lost someone to cancer told him about hospice care. Frank wanted to die at home. Byron said he called the Hospice of Washington, a hospice and home-care program in Washington, D.C., because "I needed some backup until we got a miracle."
The hospice provided Frank with a nurse. She came once a week to check Frank's vital signs and answered any questions Byron or Frank had. She taught Byron how to give Frank insulin shots for his diabetes. They developed a close relationship. Byron spent his first Thanksgiving without Frank with her.
"Every answer I needed came from hospice," says Byron. When Frank's illness progressed and he could no longer walk without help, the Hospice of Washington provided a wheelchair, a walker, and morphine for the pain in his chest. Hospice staff came and sat with Byron the day Frank was dying.
The extra support was of great help to Frank. A week before he died, Byron felt comfortable taking Frank home to say goodbye to his family in Tennessee. It was the first time in 28 years Byron had met Frank's family.
Comfort and Support
Byron says he couldn't have done a lot of things for Frank without the help of the hospice. What he and Frank appreciated most, he says, is their "respect" for death: "There is no denial of it." He said the hospice made Frank's last weeks comfortable and gave him life "right up to the second of taking his last breath." As a result, he says, Frank died with the dignity he wanted and in the environment he wanted.
Frank's death has been the most challenging thing Byron has had to conquer in his 56 years. The holidays were the most difficult time. But Byron found comfort in attending bereavement counseling sessions that the hospice program sponsored for people going through their first Christmas alone. "It was very helpful," says Byron. "We talked about people not understanding how we were feeling . . . Everyone was frightened of Christmas and wondered: Do you put up a tree?"
Byron is starting to begin life anew without Frank. He and Frank led a relatively reclusive life; now Byron sings at his choir, is back at work at the Kennedy Center, and is trying to get involved in things that keep him busy. When the Hospice of Washington called a year after Frank died and asked whether he would be willing to volunteer to be a bereavement counselor for others going through similar situations, Byron didn't have to think twice.