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Empty Nester Finds Second Act as Hospice Nurse Caring for Terminally Ill 

After raising four children, Maureen McCartney found herself with an empty nest and time to take her life in a new direction. She was all set to start law school when her sister sat her down for a pep talk.

She remembered her sister, who holds a doctorate of nursing practice, saying, “What are you doing? You have wanted to be a nurse since you were a little girl.”

Maureen McCartney, RNMaureen returned to her alma mater, UMass Boston, for a career aptitude test that showed without question that nursing would be the perfect fit. The oldest of four siblings, Maureen already knew she loved taking care of others. She holds a bachelor’s in psychology and worked as a companion to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia when her children were still in school.

After completing her nursing program, she worked in a variety of settings before finding her true calling as a hospice nurse with VNA Hospice & Palliative Care. Maureen is part of a team that includes physicians and nurse practitioners, social workers, chaplains, bereavement counselors, hospice aides, other clinicians, and trained volunteers.

“I love that hospice treats the whole family. You manage your patient’s pain, their anxiety, their fears, their nausea,” said Maureen. “You listen to families, encourage them, and help them give their parent or family member what they really want — to be at home, be loved, be pain-free.”

Maureen has seen the enormous difference the hospice team has made during the pandemic. One of her patients was an elderly man with heart disease whose condition was further complicated when he contracted COVID-19. The hospice team managed his pain and symptoms, and made it possible for him to continue living in his own home. He enjoyed meaningful time with his daughters and grandchildren, who followed COVID-19 precautions during their visits.

The hospice team tailors care to meet each patient’s needs and goals. Maureen remembered the wishes of a father who was dying of cancer. He wanted to stay at home for as long as possible, but didn’t want his children left with the memory of him dying in their home. As his journey neared its end, the team transferred the father to the Elizabeth Evarts de Rham Hospice Home in Cambridge. The residence, one of three hospice homes operated by VNA Hospice & Palliative Care, is a homelike setting for end-of-life care when remaining at home is not possible or desired. The hospice team made sure he was comfortable in his new surroundings, and he passed away that evening.

Maureen said, “It can be a beautiful end if you give it time. If people would choose hospice when they get a terminal diagnosis, we can help them so much more. We can control their symptoms, support their families, mitigate their pain, and help them live the kind of life they want to live at the end of their lives.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of Caring Matters. Photo by Verdi Studio. 

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