Welcome to House of Light, a blog produced and managed by the staff of Casa de la Luz Hospice. Casa de la Luz ("house of light" in Spanish) is a locally owned and operated hospice, serving the city and surrounding communities of Tucson, Arizona. Through this blog, we hope to offer education, information, and support about caregiving and hospice care to terminally ill patients and their loved ones. For more information, visit the contact us page.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Options for Final Arrangements

Funeral arrangements don’t make for the most exciting or happiest discussions, but they’re important ones to have. Letting your loved ones know how you want to be memorialized after death is a way for them to honor your life and your memory. It will help them to know that they fulfilled your last wishes.

We explored a few of the more non-traditional means of being remembered, and we hope this eases you into starting the final arrangements discussion with your family and/or friends.

It’s not uncommon for family members to scatter a loved one’s ashes in a scenic location. Many individuals choose a place of meaning during their lives—the family vacation spot or the mountains overlooking their hometown. Today, many businesses are available to assist you with the scattering. For example, Google “burial at sea” and you’ll discover plenty of people who can charter you a boat and assist you in scattering ashes into the ocean.

For those who wish for a more permanent resting spot within the world’s waters, a reef burial might be just the thing. A major reef burial project is the Neptune Memorial Reef Project, east of Key Biscayne in Miami. It is the largest man-made reef ever conceived. Family members of the deceased often charter boats to visit the site. Others choose to become dive certified so they can go below the water to visit a loved one and track the reef’s growth.

If the ocean doesn’t sound like the right place for your ashes to rest, perhaps a memorial spaceflight is the way to go. An organization called Space Celestis offers post-cremation memorial spaceflights. You can choose from a variety of different services. Families are invited to partake in a pre-launch memorial service, and then are allowed to gather at the liftoff site.

If you’re planning on taking your loved one’s ashes to be scattered somewhere, be aware of any regulations that might be in place. If you’re planning on flying with the ashes, check the TSA website for their guidelines on transporting the deceased. TSA also recommends that you check with your airline. Another note of caution is that the scattering of ashes may not be allowed in some places. You can check with the company or organization overseeing the chosen location for rules regarding scattering. Some private organizations may say no, and government agencies may require you to file for a permit.

If burial is more your preference, you might consider a green burial—one that promotes ecological conservation. The Ramsey Creek Preserve, in Westminster, South Carolina, was founded by Memorial Ecosystems and calls itself the first “green cemetery” in the United States. The standards for being buried within the preserve include 1) no embalming fluid, 2) a biodegradable casket, and 3) no vault. From Memorial Ecosystems’ website, “The preserve was formed to harness the funeral industry for land protection and restoration, to fund non-profits, education, the arts, and scientific research, and to provide a less expensive and more meaningful burial option.” The preserve is approved by the Green Burial Council, an independent, nonprofit organization.

These are, of course, only options, and there are other choices available to you when determining final arrangements. Consider these just a way to start the conversation.

Note: Casa de la Luz Hospice does not specifically endorse any businesses or options mentioned in this article, and only offers the information as a sample of available options. 

By Carrie Bui, Communications Specialist

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Five Cares for an Aging Population

The Friday Five is our weekly roundup of links to smart articles and helpful resources across the Web.

1. It's great to see family caregiving take a leading role in this new television special hosted by actress Holly Robinson Peete. Your Turn to Care includes four half-hour specials that will air nationally and a corresponding website. Family caregivers are encouraged to share their stories, and the site offers resources for caregivers.

2. If you're caring for a loved one with a chronic heart condition, take the time to explore the American Heart Association's website. We discovered this helpful article about heart-healthy grocery shopping. It offers suggestions to guide each part of your shopping list, from vegetables and fruits to oils, dressings, and shortenings.

3. When it comes to caring for a seriously ill loved one or an elderly parent, you're going to want to organize the important documents. You don't want to be caught tearing the house apart during a crisis situation trying to find birth certificates, military records, insurance policies, or any other number of documents. This AARP article, How to Organize Important Documents, offers a great three-step plan to get you started today.

4. Are you a healthcare professional caring for a patient with a terminal diagnosis? If treatment is no longer a viable option for your patient, maybe it's time to begin the hospice discussion with him/her. Many professionals are uncomfortable with this topic, or unsure how to introduce it. Living with Serious Illness for Pima County offers a downloadable pdf, Initiating a Hospice Discussion, to guide you through the conversation.

5. Have you started following Casa de la Luz Hospice on Twitter yet? We post all kinds of content, including links to articles and resources, and routinely participate in hospice discussions and advance care planning.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Wednesday Image: Daisy Blooms

Daisies bloom at Kanmar Place, 
Casa de la Luz Hospice's residential hospice home
Image taken by Carrie Bui

Hospice teaches us not only how to approach death with dignity, but also how to appreciate life. The Wednesday Image is our weekly series of images representing what we love and appreciate most about life in Tucson.

Monday, April 23, 2012

About Casa de la Luz Hospice

This is our entry for the Arizona Small Business Association's video competition about why your small business is amazing. Watch the video to learn more about how Casa de la Luz Hospice provides superior hospice care to patients and their loved ones.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Five Cares About Family

The Friday Five is our weekly roundup of web links to smart articles and helpful resources about aging.

1. I loved reading about this innovative program at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manahattan in this week's New York Times' New Old Age blog. "Reconnecting Through Art" is a wonderful read about how individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia and their caregivers engage through a unique museum tour program. The Rubin is not the only program of its kind in the country; several other museums in New York and a couple other large cities offer similar programs. Trained tour guides lead the individuals and their caregivers through the museum, discussing various pieces. The caregivers in the article talk about the increased engagement, the welcome change of pace, the ability to connect with others.

2. NPR regularly offers wonderful multimedia pieces about aging in our country. This week they launched a new series, "Family Matters" to cover the increase in multigenerational households in the United States, and how families are being squeezed financially in order to provide for young adult children and elderly parents at the same time. We think this will be an interesting series to follow over the next two months, and a timely discussion to have as we see more and more baby boomers deal with this issue in the coming years.

3. Hopefully, you heard someone mention that Monday was National Healthcare Decisions Day. We continually encourage individuals to write their healthcare wishes down in a recognized advance directive document. But really, you will want to write down more than just your healthcare wishes. You want your family and friends to know what to do in a medical crisis, how to handle your financial affairs, what to do in a crisis. USA.gov has a great section on their site titled "Writing a Will" and covers some important details as you plan for your future, and your loved ones' future. I'm especially intrigued by their instructions on how to write a social media will.

4. Have you thought about creating a legacy video with your loved one? It's a great way for families to have a chance to remember memories together, and to keep a record of family stories, even after an individual dies. Sally Abrahms writes about her family's legacy video and offers tips on how to do your own in the AARP Caregiving Blog, "Reminiscing for the Generations." You can also watch a video of Abrahms' mother-in-law sharing some of her own family memories.

5. Are you one of the millions of family caregivers in our country? Have you considered sharing your caregiving story with others just like you? The National Family Caregivers Association offers the National Family Caregiver Story Project as a way for family caregivers to share their stories, read others' stories, and know you're not alone in your mission to care for your elderly parent, seriously ill spouse, or other relative or close friend.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Wednesday Image: Saguaros Standing Tall

Catalina State Park in Arizona
Image taken by Sally Saunders

Hospice care teaches us not only how to approach death with dignity, but also how to appreciate life. The Wednesday Image is a weekly series of images that represent what we love and appreciate most about life in Tucson.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Make Your Healthcare Decisions Today

In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16, Casa de la Luz Foundation encourages the community to discuss advance healthcare decision-making with loved ones, ask questions, and fill out their Five Wishes booklet.  Individuals are invited to stop by the office of Casa de la Luz Hospice, 7740 N. Oracle Road, on April 16 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for information regarding advance healthcare planning and to receive a complimentary copy of the Five Wishes, known as America’s most popular advance care planning form.

“This is very important,” said Jim MacKay, President of the Board for Casa de la Luz Foundation, “because fewer families and healthcare providers will have to struggle with making difficult healthcare decisions in the absence of guidance from the patient, and healthcare providers and facilities will be better equipped to address advance healthcare planning issues before a crisis and better able to honor patient wishes.”

Five Wishes is easy to use, written in layman’s terms, and contains the Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney. In simple terms, individuals can state their wishes, and Five Wishes is also legally recognized in the state of Arizona, once notarized,” said Carol Clark, Executive Director of Casa de la Luz Foundation. “The Foundation is pleased to have provided over 27,000 Five Wishes booklets, in both English and Spanish, free of charge to individuals during the past 11 years.”

Stop by the office of Casa de la Luz Hospice at 7740 N. Oracle Road to pick up a copy of Five Wishes, or request one online through the Casa de la Luz Foundation website.

National Healthcare Decisions Day Initiative is a collaborative effort of national, state and community organizations committed to ensuring all adults with decision-making capacity have the information and opportunity to communicate and document their healthcare decisions. Learn more about NHDD at www.nhdd.org.

About Casa de la Luz Foundation 
Casa de la Luz Foundation enhances the mission of Casa de la Luz Hospice through the acquisition and disposition of funds to help transform the end of life experience into the final act of living well. The Foundation provides funding of supplemental support to hospice patients and their loved ones during end of life care. They also support education and research about end of life care. Learn more about Casa de la Luz Foundation at www.casafoundation.org or call 520-544-9890.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Five Offers Help for an Aging Population

The Friday Five is our weekly roundup of web links to smart articles and helpful resources for seriously ill individuals and the elderly.

1. Nobody explains the importance of advance directives than individuals who have been there. The San Jose Mercury News shares the perspective of a few different individuals. It's a wonderful portrait of the person who has made his wishes clear, the friend who commits to supporting your healthcare wishes at the end of life, the individual who didn't know what to do for Mom. Cost of dying: planning for a good death, from advance directive to talking with your family is a wonderful piece about how to plan for dying.

2. With progress always come new challenges. Medicine is more powerful than it's ever been, treating us, curing some of us, and giving people the ability to live longer lives. But that long life has come at a cost. More and more adults find that even after they're done raising the kids, they end up becoming a new kind of caregiver--one for an aging relative, likely Mom or Dad. Caregiving for loved ones the 'new normal' for boomers from cnn.com this week explores the rise in family caregivers and what caregivers need to know as they enter into this new responsibility.

3. If you're caring for an elderly parent or other relative, or perhaps are inching toward a more senior age, we recommend following the New York Times' The New Old Age blog. The entries in the blog are always quick reads, and more often than not, an interesting look into aging in the United States. This week Paula Span posted a piece titled An Age-Appropriate Assist. It was a really great look into how seniors are helping each other stay independent longer, providing companionship, respite, transportation assistance, and general household help. Our elderly population is expected to explode as the baby boomers age into retirement; community programs such as the one Span describes will become ever more important to help us support our seniors.

4. Get a head start on April 16, National Healthcare Decisions Day. The Casa de la Luz Foundation is happy to provide complimentary copies of the Five Wishes, a recognized advance directive for 42 states, including Arizona. You can submit a request for a hard copy of the Five Wishes to be mailed to you, or you can fill out the Five Wishes online.

5. For those in the Tucson community, or its surrounding areas, such as Oro Valley, Marana, and Vail, our related site, Living with Serious Illness offers an extensive community directory with categories covering support groups, caregiving assistance, supplemental nutrition programs, and more. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Wednesday Image: Sunset Pink

Arizona sunset
Image taken by Shanna Hoskinson

Hospice care teaches us not only how to approach death with dignity, but also how to appreciate life. The Wednesday Image is a weekly series of images that represent what we love and appreciate most about life in Tucson.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Making Final Arrangements in Advance

Funeral arrangements. These are two little words that can be so difficult for some people to say, let alone think about. 

As a social worker, I have the task of asking my hospice patients and their families if they know what their final arrangements will be.  I met with the family of a patient who was in his 90s and did not have any prepaid plans with a mortuary.  When asked about final arrangements, the family all looked at each other for a few moments and then replied, “We don’t know what dad would want; we’ve never discussed it with him.” 

Unfortunately this response is all too common. It was too late for that family to have the funeral arrangement discussion with dad.  They were faced with the task of making a quick on-the-spot decision, hoping it was the right one.   

I often find patients themselves are hesitant to bring up the subject of funeral arrangements.  Many times people think they are “jinxing” themselves to an early death if they discuss their last wishes. This is often the same reason many individuals choose to not complete a living will. On the other hand, most of us do not think twice about getting life insurance. We want to make sure our loved ones are financially cared for if something happened to us.  So wouldn’t it also make sense to alleviate some of the stressful final arrangement decisions as well? 

There are many ways to approach this. One way is to have a prepaid plan already in place. This would also alleviate any financial burden to your family. But even if you are not in a position to do this, you can at least begin the discussion with your family about what you would want after your death. Do you prefer burial over cremation? Do you want to donate your body to science? Is it important to you to be brought back to your home state? Are there certain songs you would want played at a memorial service? If your family does not want to discuss funeral arrangements with you, then you can put your wishes in your will.

Funeral homes today are adept at working with families to make sure their loved ones’ requests can be honored.  They are also aware of specific cultural considerations and will respect cultural traditions and practices. Their goal is to make this as easy as possible for the family. They understand your grief. Consider if there is a specific funeral home where you would want your service to be hosted. Hospice chaplains and social workers can also assist you with final arrangement planning and decision making. You don’t have to do this alone.

Losing a loved one regardless of when or how it happens is always an emotional time.  By removing some of the decision making responsibilities from our families, they are allowed to confront their grief sooner. When we focus on our heart and not our head, we can begin grieving sooner.   

By Sharon Sanchez, Social Worker

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Five: Preparing for Dying

1. Susan Jacoby wrote a compelling op-ed piece, "Taking Responsibility for Death" for the New York Times that was published on March 30. She does so using both logic and emotion, with a personal story of her mother's end of life journey. And her point at the end stands tall--in order to ensure your end of life experience is the way you want it, you need to make your wishes known.

2. There's a great article from Hospitals & Health Networks Daily discussing the movement to help individuals become more involved in their own care, including end of life care. "Defying Death and Living to Regret It" looks at how families need to have a conversation about death, dying, treatment preferences, values, and more. These conversations allow individuals to maintain some control over their lives and their deaths.

3. As our lives become increasingly digital, individuals need to also being considering what happens to their digital selves when they die? From NPR's blog All Tech Considered, "Who Has the Right to Our Facebook Accounts Once We Die" brings up the question of ownership of digital property and the law's place in determining who can access your online accounts in the event of death. If you haven't outlined yet how to access your online accounts in the event of death, maybe now is a good time to consider doing so.

4. The Hospice Foundation of America offers this free, downloadable pdf called an Emergency Profile. The profile covers a person's basic information like name, address, and emergency contacts, but it also goes over physician information, medication information, allergies, and legal contacts such as your attorney's contact information, accountant, and insurance agent. It's a good go-to contact sheet in case something happens to you, or a way to just keep all important contact information in one place.

5. It's important to put all of your affairs in order before a crisis occurs. It allows you the security of knowing your family will be taken care of, and gives you a say in what happens to your assets. A good place to start is with an elder law attorney. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys has an easy to search directory that can help you get started with finding an attorney in you area.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Wednesday Image: Welcome Home, Veterans

Tucson Welcome Home Veterans Parade
March 31, 2012; Downtown Tucson
Image taken by Carrie Bui

For more images from the Tucson Welcome Home Veterans parade, visit the Casa de la Luz Hospice Facebook page.

Hospice care teaches us not only how to approach death with dignity, but also how to appreciate life. The Wednesday Image is a weekly series of images that represent what we love and appreciate most about life in Tucson.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What is Reiki?

For two years, Elsa Swyers has been bringing her healing touch to Casa de la Luz Hospice patients through our volunteer program.

Before moving to Tucson and becoming a Casa volunteer, Elsa worked as a physician with Kaiser Permanente. “As time went on, I began to realize there was something more to healing and to medicine than what Western medicine offered.”

She started out by reading about complementary or integrative medicine, and then through a patient, had the opportunity to learn Reiki. This is a hands-on healing technique involving light touch. The word is derived from two Japanese words: rei, meaning universal, and ki, meaning life energy. The history of the practice goes back to Dr. Mikao Usui, a late 19th-early 20th century Japanese scholar and philosopher. It was introduced in the United States in the 1930s, after an American, Hawayo Takata, learned it in Japan and brought the practice back to the West, according to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Elsa learned Reiki from a Reiki master visiting Denver in 1998, undergoing training for both Level 1 and Level 2 Reiki. She describes Reiki as a self-healing practice, and felt its benefits during the instructional class. “I think of the Reiki as helping the person open to that universal life force,” she said, an energy that is more acknowledged in Eastern practices. Reiki helps people access a universal energy, supporting and facilitating the body’s ability to heal itself (but it’s not a curative practice). 

Reiki can have an effect physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, explained Elsa.
Studies have shown Reiki can help lower blood pressure, help with pain management, and reduce stress. This healing practice can also aid the immune system or help an individual with grief work, explained Elsa. “At the very least, it’s a nice chance to relax.” Reiki provides healing through a light touch in 13-14 positions on the body, with 3-5 minutes per position. A Reiki session usually takes almost an hour. However, a Reiki session can be shorter to accommodate the situation and individual. The saying from Takata goes, “Some Reiki is better than no Reiki.”

As told to Carrie Bui, Communications Specialist