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Family Cherishes “Long Goodbye” at Home with Beloved Husband, Father 

VNA Care’s hospice team gave the Farrer family one last month together at home — filled with friends, laughter, and new memories they hold dear when reminiscing about their late father and husband who was larger than life.

The only thing they’d do differently was enlist the support and expertise of the hospice team sooner. Michael holding his dog

Much of Michael Farrer’s time over the preceding two years was devoted to doctor’s visits and procedures for heart failure and numerous other health issues. He spent more and more time in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, sometimes apart from his wife of 52 years, Sandra, and their home for as long as six weeks.

His daughter, Meg Rivett, remembered accompanying her dad on a visit to his primary care doctor last summer. They weren’t familiar with hospice, so the doctor introduced this special branch of medicine that focuses on managing pain and symptoms and helping patients live with dignity at the end of life while providing support to loved ones before and after their loss.

Michael (pictured) was hospitalized again in November. The situation was “really weighing on all of us,” said his son, David Farrer. They gathered for a family meeting to talk about the options. Michael was weary of the constant hospital visits and stress it caused his family. His biggest wish was to stay at home. The family decided it was time for hospice. 

Brenna Ferrentino, RN, a hospice nurse case manager at VNA Care, made her first visit with Michael and his family on the day before Thanksgiving and would serve as their primary clinician in the coming weeks.

David said, “Hospice made the whole process easier and understandable. Brenna was really good about explaining everything each step of the way and what to expect at each change in him.”

Meg said her dad was the “biggest jokester,” loved to laugh, and known for his sharp wit. “The hospice team that came in went right along with him. That’s what my mom loved the most. ...Everybody was laughing when they were here. It wasn’t this somber, sad stuff that I think people associate with hospice. They know how to go to the personality of the patient.”

Michael had time to say goodbye to his friends, and be with his wife, four children, and nine grandchildren in the comfort and familiar surroundings of his home.

Meg recalled that a particularly meaningful moment for her dad was a pinning ceremony the hospice team held to recognize Michael’s service in the United States Navy Seabees division during the Vietnam War.

As part of the We Honor Veterans Initiative of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, VNA Care recognizes the unique needs of veterans and honors those who served as they reach the end of life.

The team presented Michael with a pin, which he added to his Seabees hat, and a patriotic quilt. Family members who couldn’t be there in person joined on Zoom.

“My dad used that quilt until the day he died. He loved it. When we held the celebration of life, it was on display because he was so proud of it,” said David. Meg added, “It was very special to all of us.”

Brenna was always a phone call away. Meg said, “Brenna was really caring. She’d talk to my dad even when he wasn’t conscious. She would say, ‘Your family is all here. You can let go when you’re ready.’ It was helpful for us to hear how to talk to him when he wasn’t conscious. Then we all followed suit.”

Michael made his wishes known when he was still able to speak. Not one to stand on tradition, he wanted his family to hold a party instead of a wake or funeral after he was gone. He had an appreciation for whiskey, and asked his family to have a shot of Jack Daniels in his honor before he passed. As the time drew near, his wife and four kids gathered around his bed and made their toast.

Meg said, “I swear he was waiting for that because the next day he passed.” In the celebration of life that took place days later, 350 people joined the family to commemorate and remember Michael at the country club where he loved to golf. A seat was saved in Michael’s honor with a glass of whiskey and one of his favorite cigars.

Meg and David are grateful for their family’s experience with VNA Care’s hospice. “Brenna was absolutely phenomenal,” said David. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.”

Meg shared, “Some people don’t get to have that long goodbye. They don’t get to say all the things they wanted to say and spend all the time they wanted to spend, but we did.”

The two have since found themselves as resources for their friends who are coping with a parent’s or grandparent’s terminal illness, and urge them to consider hospice care. Meg said, “The one regret that we had is that we didn’t use hospice earlier. It was so helpful to us as a family to have that guidance and that extra set of eyes and ears.”

David added, “Now I see how important hospice is and how much it made our lives better.”