From a very young age, Debra Heavens knew her mom to be a strong, stoic, smart and independent woman. As Debra grew into adulthood, her appreciation for these attributes only grew stronger as she experienced her mom, Margaret DeCamp, venturing on to new challenges at a time in life when many others would take it easy. After raising Debra and her sister—instilling in them the good sense, skills and confidence to leave the nest— Margaret went back to college and embarked on a career as an early childhood educator. She was the picture of determination and demonstrated at every turn just how wonderful life could be if you believed in yourself and stayed physically and mentally strong.
Some, but not all of that changed, when Margaret was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease. By the time she reached her late 60s, Margaret began to experience loss of mobility and physical decline. However, as her physical body continued to fail her, Margaret’s mind dug in and fought back.
“I believe as Mom’s body declined, she just got smarter and smarter,” said Debra. “She kept using her brain and somehow we knew that her mind would stay sharp until the very end.”
End-of-life care was a conversation Debra previously had with her parents. "I was fortunate because my parents had initiated conversations with me while they were still in good health regarding their end-of-life wishes. These were deep and thoughtful discussions. Years later, after they moved to assisted living, Mom witnessed a resident being fed at dinner. After much introspection, Mom told me that if she lost mobility in her hands that she would not want to be fed. We talked about this at length and also had a meeting with the Director of Nursing. It was a few years later when we requested Abramson Senior Care to be Mom's Hospice provider. I discussed this openly with the Intake RN and Mom's RN and was assured that her wishes would be respected. Mom also discussed this with her team, but it never came to that. Mom's symptoms were managed with expertise and compassion."
As it was, Debra herself was a hospice nurse—a later-in-life career change after more than 20 years being a cardiac nurse. At the time, and still, Debra lived on the west coast, where she experienced that most hospice admissions occurred about two weeks before the patient passed away. When signs became evident that her mom would one day soon require hospice care, Debra became determined she would not inflict this west coast approach on her mother—residing in Lansdale, PA—nor on herself. She felt confident the hospice journey could be empowering and beautiful if not hurried into two short weeks. It just required the right partner, which Debra and Margaret found in Abramson Senior Care.
“Our experience with the Abramson family—which became part of our family—showed how important it is not to wait,” said Debra, whose mom took advantage of hospice services seven months prior to her passing. “Getting hospice care doesn’t mean you’re going to die right now, but you have to get a relationship going with the team. Abramson got to know mom and her wishes. They got to know me. They met us where we were in this process, and that really impressed me. We talked openly and honestly about mom’s end-of-life wishes, and everyone respected them.”
Debra didn’t expect it to be easy living in California with her mom in hospice care all the way across the country. In fact, she expected she’d find herself moving back to Pennsylvania. However, the excellent care and support Abramson Senior Care provided Margaret as well as Debra, was beyond expectations, and Debra remained on the west coast, and fully involved in the decision-making and experience of her mom’s end-of-life journey.
“The staff would call, keep me updated of changes, they never missed a beat, there was never any breakdown in communications,” said Debra. “More than once, Mom would say to me, ‘Abramson is taking such good care of me, you don’t have to come.’ And I knew she was right. I knew she wasn’t suffering. That Abramson preserved her dignity. That she was receiving the very best care and support.”
When talking to her mother, and during her visits east, Debra heard over and over again about Verna Laing— Margaret’s hospice aid from Abramson Senior Care.
“Not just Verna—but my Verna is how mom referred to her. They had that close of a bond,’ said Debra. “Verna came to mom 5 days a week, which I found to be truly exceptional. Mom fell in love with her.”
Margaret and Verna alike have spoken fondly about the special bond they forged over lipstick. Verna would coordinate lipstick for Margaret that matched her own and whatever she dressed Margaret in for the day.
“It may seem like a little thing, but it created trust and gave her confidence,” said Verna. “We were lipstick buddies—her confidence in herself grew. Hospice isn’t only about the patient’s physical state. You have to talk to the family, support everyone. You have to have love in your heart.”
Debra will, and does, tell anyone who asks—and even those who don’t—what a difference Abramson Senior Care made in those final months for her and her mother. She truly felt the love from the entire team, appreciated that they always had time and attention to give them, and never ceased to be amazed by the way they saw Margaret for who she was, the authentic, strong woman Debra had known all her life. "Mom developed relationships with her team of experts,” continued Debra. “Her RN, Social Worker, Hospice Aide, Chaplain (Spiritual Care Advisor) each had a unique role. They enriched her life immeasurably. She so looked forward to each visit."
Debra also is grateful for the support she’s received before and after her mother’s passing, which included bereavement offerings and even a call on the anniversary of Margaret’s death. As a hospice nurse who had also experienced her sister’s passing 12 years earlier, and her father’s death 6 years later, Debra had been part of many end-of-life journeys. But the one she took with Abramson Senior Care, for her, was beyond compare.
“Mom had the most peaceful passing I have ever seen,” said Debra. “Abramson allowed me to be a daughter, not my mom’s nurse or caregiver, and that means the world to me. Mom was enveloped in love, and I will never forget—I will always be grateful for—Abramson Senior Care.”