House of Peace

At the most difficult time in their lives, a family finds comfort and compassion.

Ann and Bruce Thompson watched from the sunroom as snowflakes fell gently from the sky on a late February day.

They were coming to end of a four-decades long journey.

But that moment meant so much. They were together. They were at peace. They were at Israel Family Hospice House.

Bruce had arrived at the Hospice House after six weeks in Mary Greeley Medical Center's Oncology unit.

He had developed an aggressive form of cancer, which eventually spread to his brain. When he began to show signs of nerve damage, it was clear that no more treatment was possible. Paralyzed by the nerve damage, Bruce became frail. After a nearly two-month struggle, Bruce's doctor, Larry Otteman, M.D., recommended Bruce go to Israel Family Hospice House.

"Almost immediately upon our arrival at the Hospice House, things felt more peaceful," says Ann. "The staff and volunteers were very attentive to Bruce's needs and also very supportive of me."

An Accomplished Family

Up until Bruce's initial admission to the medical center, he was working full time at Iowa State University as a distinguished professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. He also served as the director of the Center of Nondestructive Evaluation. Ann works at ISU as well, as a university professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and director of the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching. The two met at Stanford University while Bruce pursued his Ph.D, and Ann her master's.

The Thompsons previously lived and worked in Ann's home state of California where their two children were born. Their daughter Amy is now a music therapist in San Antonio, and their son Kirk works in chemical engineering in Midland, Mich. Bruce wanted to move his career to an academic institution and found a fitting position opening at ISU. "It turned out to be a good move for me, too," says Ann. She says they couldn't think of a better place than Ames to be in the last six months of Bruce's life, appreciating the medical care and support from friends and the community.

A Little Touch of Home

In a painful and sorrowful time, the Hospice House relieved a great deal of pressure and helped move the Thompson family into a more peaceful time as Bruce reached the end of his life.

"We all like to pretend that death isn't going to happen," says Ann. "The staff at the Hospice House are experts on the end of life, and their ability to share the right information at the right time is so helpful."

Ann also praises the outstanding physical care Bruce received at the Hospice House, which made it possible for her and her husband to spend the final days of his life focused on each other. They had valuable time to ensure nothing was left unsaid.

Enjoyment of nature and the outdoors was a significant shared experience during Ann and Bruce's 44-year marriage. The staff of the Hospice House made sure they would be able to continue sharing those experiences during Bruce's stay.

"I will never forget the opportunity the staff of the Hospice House provided us so we could be together on the sun porch and enjoy an amazingly beautiful and peaceful light snowfall the first Saturday we were there," says Ann. "Moving his bed to the sun porch was no small feat, but no one blinked an eye at the effort involved. The opportunity to share that last snowfall together is a memory I will always cherish."

Throughout his stay of 14 days, Bruce had more than 65 visitors, which is a testament to the kind of man he was, the life he lived. Friends and colleagues came to thank him for things he'd done for them.

"I could see the look in his eye—it was very meaningful to him," says Ann.

One evening Bruce's nurse, Marcia, had suggested the end was probably near. Ann and Kirk were able to spend that time at Bruce's side as the three of them listened to "Prairie Home Companion," softly smiling and feeling relaxed. Bruce opened his eyes widely before he took his last breath and they were able to say goodbye in a peaceful and loving way.

"I am so grateful for Hospice and Marcia for that unforgettable time together," says Ann. "They guided us through the most difficult time in our lives and created an experience filled with dignity and love, as well as deep sadness. I will always view our days with the Hospice House as Bruce's last stop on the way to heaven. We are very lucky to have such a facility in Ames."