We Used to Die at Home

I attended a seminar where I heard someone say, “We used to die at home.” The statement struck me as strange and beautiful at the same time. It sounded strange because it seemed out of place. Who says such a thing?

It sounded beautiful because it harkened back to a day when home was the place we died. Actually, now that I think about it, it sounded strangely beautiful.

In those days, we were also born at home. Hospital visits were rare and long (unlike today when they are frequent and as short as possible). Most illnesses were ridden out at home just like most other crises in life. In those days, physicians made the rounds. The rounds were not so much in hospitals as they were to the homes of their patients. House calls—remember them?

There was something noble about doing all this at home. I’m not sure what it was, but I suppose it had something to do with the fact that we were surrounded by family (and our neighbors). That was also back in the day when neighbors actually neighbored.

“You can give me a good hospital anytime.”

I don’t mean to romanticize all of that. Nor do I want to demean hospitals and the current practice of physicians. I guess I’m just a little nostalgic about a simpler time (or at least they seemed simpler).

I realize many people probably died younger and sometimes unnecessarily because they were home. Frankly, you can give me a good hospital anytime. I’ve been there and appreciate the care.

Still, there was something about dying at home. It was more personal—not only for the one slipping away from this world, but for the family and friends as well. Visiting hours were never over, for example. Your kin didn’t leave your room and tell you they’d be back in two days.

Many people desire to die at home. For some, it’s their dying wish. Still, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be—especially for the families. Our current lifestyles just don’t accommodate such things well. In fact, The Caregiver Space.org had this to say:

Dying at home may be awesome for the dying. It’s hard to say, since none have bothered to fill out a customer satisfaction survey from the other side. For family caregivers, the home hospice experience is not always as rosy as it is portrayed. It can be a gut-wrenching, soul-draining nightmare that no amount of therapy will ever be able to rectify.

If you go online, you can find horror stories on both sides of the issue. There are a lot of factors that go into making it a good thing or a tragedy. Both my maternal grandparents died at home. My Mom spoke glowingly about sharing their final days. On the other hand, both my parents died in medical facilities. Their circumstances would have made it unthinkable to bring them home.

I suppose this is why hospitals attempt to accommodate families more and more. After all, there’s no place like home.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

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