Health Check: Program helps family with bereavement process

Kate Greene with her late-husband Michael, and their two sons, Owen and Liam.

Kate and Michael Greene met in college in D.C.

They got married, settled down in Mansfield, Mass. and had two boys, Owen and Liam.

Life was good.

Then about a month after Michael, who was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army National Guard, came back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan a couple of years ago, Kate noticed a mole on the back of his leg.

"Two weeks later on his way home from work he got a call saying he has melanoma," Kate said.

Despite many months of treatments, his cancer eventually spread. And by January of last year, Kate reluctantly sought out hospice care for her husband of 18 years.

"Truly, hospice to us meant he was dying," Kate said.

"Sometimes I'll speak with a patient and they'll say, 'I don't need hospice' and I'll say, 'You're right, but your family does,'" said Dr. Ed Martin, medical director at the Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island.

And Kate, her two boys, and husband were all beneficiaries of the care they received through Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island. First in their home, and then when Michael was transferred to HHCRI's in-patient center in Providence.

"For my kids it was a safety place," Kate said.

There were pleasant surroundings and not a lot of tubes and machinery that might be disturbing to a child.

"He still had the pain medication, but it was on his hip so they didn't really see it," Kate said. "Just in terms of the social work and family dynamics, they were all very helpful especially when it was getting towards the end."

On Feb. 10, 2013, Kate said one of the nurses sat with her while her husband was dying.

"He was taking his last breaths and she sat with me the whole entire time," she said.

It's been more than a year since Michael's death but Kate still GOES to HHCRI once a week to meet with Deanna Upchurch, a bereavement counselor.

Many family members, like Kate, become like family, taking part in free counseling and group sessions months, even years, after the death of a loved one.

Martin said people don't get in touch with hospice soon enough.

"People are eligible for hospice when they have a six-month life expectancy," he said.

Martin said the earlier the better.

"Some studies have shown that people live longer with hospice care than those who didn't get hospice care before they died," he said.

All of the bereavement programs offered by HHCRI are free to families, and there's even a summer camp for children who have lost a loved one.