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Traveling the Journey at End of Life on Her Terms – Maggie's Story

"I've seen what happens, and I didn't want it," said Margaret (Maggie) Spencer, 86-year old former gerontologist and founder of the Bureau of Aging in Luzerne and Wyoming Counties of Pennsylvania.

Maggie was stretched out comfortably in a soft chaise lounge, prayer shawl draped on the back, in a bright and sunny corner her only daughter, Kelly, and beloved son-in-law, Patrick (Paddy) prepared for her in their home when Maggie decided it was time to choose hospice care.

On homecare for only a few days, Maggie shared the recent incident that precipitated her decision.

"I was living alone in my Dallas home of 22 years," Maggie explained, "when I got up from my chair one evening to go over to the couch. Between the chair and the couch, I fell. I was able to reach the phone and tried to call my grandson, Jonathan, but I couldn't reach him. I did not want to call 911, because I knew what they would do - they would send an ambulance to take me to the hospital, and then the hospital would send me to a facility. I said no way – I am going to wait until I can reach Jonathan or Kelly."

And wait she did. Maggie lay on the floor all night. In the morning, she was able to reach her family. She told them what happened and what she wanted. What she wanted was NOT to go to the hospital or another facility. She simply wanted to be comfortable and live out the rest of her life the way she wanted to.

Maggie spent most of her life lobbying to secure benefits for seniors. As a young college graduate, Maggie started her career as a caseworker for the Department of Public Affairs. Jobs were not easy to come by, even for the privileged like Maggie, whose father was Secretary of the House of Representatives. She worked mainly on welfare cases, which ignited her passion for serving the poor and under-served. She saw so many older people with needs. Most were coal miner's widows and wives who had nothing, and there were no services for them.

For the next several decades, Maggie set out to change that. Under a state demonstration project, Maggie founded her first of 50 senior citizen centers in an old shoe store. In addition to the Bureau of Aging, Maggie also founded a local Meals on Wheels and Foster Grandparent program. After a major flood in her hometown, Maggie helped relocate over 6,000 people that lost their homes.

Sipping a scotch and water and munching on cheddar cheese goldfish before turning in for the evening, Maggie shared that she is thankful that people have it better now than they would have because of the things she did. Not a bad legacy indeed.

"I did the best with what I could. I was blessed that God put me in the right direction," said Maggie.

When asked what she likes best about being on hospice service, Maggie is quick to respond, "The wonderful people who come and visit me."

She smiles at her hospice nurse, Megan, who is by her side as we chat. "They are my friends. I always want them to stay longer, but I know they have others that need them too. They are so precious."

The weekend before our visit, Maggie's family hosted a "Celebration of Life" party where they shared past memories and created even more. In addition to her family, many of Maggie's new hospice family members joined the gathering too.

"I am so blessed that I can make my own decisions and don't have to go where I don't want to go. I will stay here with my daughter as long as she will have me. I have a living will. Kelly is my POA, and I am DNR," states Maggie very matter-of-factly and with great confidence and peace.

What does Kelly, who just so happens to be a Hospice Volunteer Coordinator for Celtic Healthcare have to say?

"The best thing about having Mom on the hospice program is that it is allowing me to enjoy being her daughter thanks to the wonderful care our aides give Mom."

Maggie is traveling her journey at end of life on her terms, surrounded by the things she enjoys, the people she loves, and is still deeply and significantly influencing the lives of those around her. It is a peaceful, comfortable, dignified, and joy-filled journey.

For more information on making sure your healthcare choices and decisions are known and to access resources for advanced care planning, visit www.nhdd.org. For more information on Hospice care or the Journey Program, please visit Celtic Healthcare's website at www.celtichealthcare.com.

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