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Team supports nurse as ‘Auntie’ in beloved niece's last days

Mary Springer with CarlaToday we share a story from our Better Together series. Thanks to support from Optage Hospice, this nurse got to exchange her role for “Auntie” during her beloved niece’s last days on earth.

Nurse Mary Springer embraces life. Her sense of fashion says it all — even before she expresses a warm greeting. Mary manages clinical education and recently celebrated her 15-year anniversary with Presbyterian Homes & Services.

When her niece Carla was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multi form — a rare, terminal brain cancer — the family naturally turned to Mary as a beacon of medical knowledge and experience. Carla named Mary as her power of attorney for medical decisions.

But perhaps most of all, Carla needed the emotional support only a best friend can offer. And that was her Auntie Mary.

Carla’s best friend 'Auntie Mary'

“It was 1967 when I met Carla, who was born with these dark eyes and beautiful black hair. I was 7 years old, and there was immediately a special connection between us,” Mary reflects. “As we both grew up, got married (Carla was my Maid of Honor and I was her Matron of Honor) and started our careers and families, we were never far apart and closely connected in every way possible.”

Still, Mary feared — based on her knowledge of this form of cancer — that she alone could not prevent a potentially painful, difficult death for Carla.

Optage Hospice brings comfort

So, in a conversation with Carla and her family, Mary recommended adding the services of Optage Hospice. At first the family reacted based on negative misperceptions about hospice. 

Hospice neither prolongs life or hastens death. Rather, in Mary’s words, the goal with Optage Hospice was “to help Carla have the highest possible quality of life and comfort” at home. Optage Hospice is an interdisciplinary team and part of the commmunity services division of Presbyterian Homes & Services.

Once Optage Hospice stepped in, Mary says, “It just brought an extraordinary amount of comfort to me and to Carla’s husband Bob. I saw a huge weight lifted off his shoulders as the primary caregiver.”

That final leg of the journey took a positive turn because of comforting advice from Optage Hospice care providers. “They would say, ‘We’re just helping you support Carla as she transitions into this adventure and new life with God.’” Mary continues, “I was just amazed at the love and the compassion and the tenderness and just the calmness and the gift of knowing.”

                                          Better-Together_Jessica-Rudy-RN-(2).png       Better-Together_Stephanie-Berends-Nursing-Assistant-(1).png       Better-Together_Jen-Johnson-Chaplain-(1).png

(Pictured at Carla's home, from left: Jessica Rudy, RN; Stefanie Hanson, nursing assistant; Jen Johnson, spiritual care pastor)


Peace and shared memories at the lake

A highlight for both Carla and family was her last visit to the family cabin at Pelican Lake in Minnesota. Carla, who once traveled the world during a career as president of Banner Engineering, always said she found her best solace at the lake with family.

Behind the scenes, Optage Hospice had pre-arranged medications and available support in nearby Pelican Rapids.

That weekend Carla’s mother — Mary’s sister — celebrated her birthday, and Mary said, “It was the best present she could have gotten because she had her daughter in the place that her daughter loved the most.”

A beautiful death and new life

In her final days, with the support of Optage Hospice care, Carla neither experienced excruciating pain nor had a massive seizure, much to Mary’s relief.

So, just as Carla had wished, Auntie Mary and all those closest to her were with her at home to the very end — a peaceful moment that Mary describes as “a beautiful death.”

Recalling Carla's last breaths with a peaceful look on her face, Mary explains, “I was sitting by her, and I just hugged her and told her that I love her and that it’s okay for her to go and to say hi to my mom, my dad, grandma and grandpa and my brother James. Please tell all of them that we love them.”

As Mary and her family celebrate Carla’s new beginning, Mary feels so much gratitude, both to Optage Hospice and to her coworkers for their prayers and support. “My family was so impressed with the hospice care,” she said. “And I was so unbelievably proud to say I work for Presbyterian Homes.”

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