CLINTON — When Richard Lehmkuhl passed away Feb. 11, it was just as he’d wanted — peacefully, with no morphine, and at home.

And this would not have been possible, if not for the efforts of the staff of Mercy Hospice, according to two of Lehmkuhl’s children — daughter, Christine (Chris), and son, Scott.

"They made it possible to be a part of Dad’s passing peacefully at home, and you can’t place any kind of value on that," said Chris, looking to Jill Lemke, Mercy Hospice coordinator, with tearful appreciation.

Lemke is quick to remind Chris of all of her own efforts in caring for her father, adding, "it was a team effort between the family and us."

Richard Lehmkuhl had been dealing with COPD (a lung disorder) for quite some time, when he suffered a stroke in August 2006. So Chris relocated home from the East Coast in September, to care for her father.

Over time, Scott and the other four Lehmkuhl children grew concerned, fearing Chris would be overwhelmed as she tried to care for Richard, a big man with growing medical needs.

The cycle of time between hospital stays for pneumonia and time at home grew shorter and shorter, and the family realized something needed to happen to make Richard’s remaining time more peaceful and comfortable.

They talked of how their mother, Clara, had been in hospice care prior to her death in 1994, and how she had been able to die as she wished, under hospice care in the hospital.

"She loved her hospice workers," says Chris. And the children wanted their dad to experience the benefit of hospice care, too.

In January, Scott traveled home from Korea with his wife, Song Ja, where Lehmkuhl is stationed with the 18th Army Medical. He says the two weeks spent doing fun things at home with his dad, like watching a football game over a beer, was a precious time for Scott.

It was during this time Scott and his siblings convinced their father that hospice care would ensure the elder Lehmkuhl could remain at home, while his daughter received the care-giving assistance she needed.

"It was when you have that role reversal," Scott explains, "when you become the parent to your parent, and you have to say ‘Dad, you must let us get you some in-home care if you want to stay out of the hospital’."

Initially, all six children tried to warn Lemke about their dad — on a bad day, he’ll be quiet and stoic, and on a good day, he’ll just be plain cranky. They were fearful their irascible father might drive the aides away. But the opposite was true. By the time Scott was to return to Korea, he felt at peace, seeing the system of care for his father was set up well.

The patriarch quickly became comfortable with the regular visits from his hospice aides and nurses, joking with some, chatting and appreciating the care they provided him. And he allowed them to tend to the tasks he felt were not befitting his daughter.

They always treated him with kindness, consideration and respect," says Chris, adding, "They were never in a hurry, and they always made Dad feel he was in control."

Lehmkuhl was a proud man, and didn’t want to be a burden on his children. And he wanted to die at home peacefully, without the morphine he feared would take away his lucidity.

Lemke and the hospice staff heard all of Lehmkuhl’s concerns and wishes, as well as those of his children, in developing Richard’s care plan.

"It’s important to meet with the patient, to see their level of understanding, to hear their goals and expectations," explains Lemke. "We want to hear what they expect from us, for we’re in their home, on their turf, and we are there at their service."

"We need to walk where the patient is," she says of the hospice experience.

The hospice team provides 24-hour support to the patient and the family, and in the Lehmkuhls’ case, the children marveled at the patience of Lemke and her staff in answering their countless questions about their father and his care. Both Scott and Chris remark the team was able to resolve any issue within the hour, and that timeliness meant a lot to the family in keeping things as stress-free as possible.

Chris relates how her father had been rushed to the hospital one evening, and at 2:30 a.m., hospice worker Ruby came to meet with Richard, to allay his fears, explain his options and help him in returning home with treatment. To Chris, that was priceless.

A lot of time is spent with patients and families educating them on all the aspects of hospice and medical treatments available, according to Lemke. In addition to materials they provide, much time is spent reviewing all the options available to the patient at that moment, depending on his or her needs.

They make the choice of how they’d like to proceed, and with that control comes comfort and peace of mind, both for the patient and family members.

"When you’re half a world away," says Scott, fighting back tears, "it’s good to know there are people like those from hospice who are caring for your family. It’s reassuring."

And Scott was impressed by the hospice staff. "Being in the medical arena in the Army, I had taken a course on ‘Death and Dying.’ And I saw all the principles of that program being applied to Dad’s care."

Scott’s wife, Song Ja, agrees, adding, "I saw Scott become fearful when he worried about his father, before hospice."

After hospice was brought into Richard’s care, she saw her husband as more relaxed, confident his father’s life was now comfortable, and that his sister was getting the help she deserved.

That Sunday afternoon Chris checked in on her father, who was peacefully napping. Twenty minutes later, she checked, and Richard was gone, looking as though he was still enjoying his nap.

"It’s been the most difficult experience I’ve ever had," admits Chris. But like her sister, Pat, who had cared for their mother, Chris cherishes the time she spent with her father.

"Having hospice care lets you continue to live life as you want," says Chris of her parents’ experience with hospice. "And that’s what we all want."

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