Hospice care makes living together at home a reality for Albert Lea couple

Published 8:42 pm Thursday, November 2, 2017

Every fine line of the two hands was captured in the cast. She painted them a pearly, shimmery white, with a brownish-gold line of a wedding ring brushed delicately onto each left ring finger. The hands are mounted by the wrist on a mirror etched with fine circular lines radiating outward like the rings of a tree. The hands stand fingers-up, but they’re wrapped together in a tender hand-hold. The mirror is further mounted onto a black slate the size of a record. It’s titled like one, too: “Forever Together, Donald and Marilyn.” If, in the future, you were to put the needle into the fine surface grooves, the sculpture might sing a love song. For now, they are still writing it. But, as with many love songs, it will end in goodbye.

During the time Marilyn Giles’ husband was working, he traveled frequently. She was working long hours in the restaurant industry. Since beginning to receive Mayo Clinic Health Services hospice care in their home in May 2016, what Marilyn Giles noted is that hospice has given her the opportunity to spend quality time with her husband.

“When they had the hospital bed in here, then I moved my chair over next to him and said, ‘We can sit and hold hands all day now. Make up for the lost time.’”

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For many years, Donald Giles spent his time performing several roles related to the meat industry. After four years in the U.S. Navy beginning in 1951, a marriage, two children and a divorce, Donald Giles met his now-wife, Marilyn Giles, at the Eagles Club in Albert Lea.

“I knew he was the one,” Marilyn Giles said. “We haven’t parted since July 25, 1963.”

Donald and Marilyn Giles have been married for 54 years. “Everybody said, ‘Don’t marry him, you’ll be sorry,’” Marilyn Giles said. “And I did, and I’m not sorry.” – Provided

They were married that October, and had six children. Donald Giles started as a USDA meat inspector in 1964. First in St. Paul, then New York City, New Jersey, Minneapolis, Ohio and Iowa, Donald Giles spent almost 30 years in the industry until he retired and transferred back to Albert Lea in 1991 to be with family, he said.

The Giles’ hospice case manager, Carolyn Sabinish, said the Giles are not the only family opting for home hospice care.

“I think I’m seeing more families, if they’re able, to keep their loved ones at home,” Sabinish said.

According to Sabinish, in addition to the comfort of a home environment, it also gives Donald Giles the independence of his own schedule.

Sabinish is one of approximately five people who are employed by hospice care to visit throughout any given week. A massage therapist, an aid, a hospice pastor, a social worker and a nurse all play a role in home hospice care.

“They’re great,” Donald Giles said. “They’re all great people.”

Additionally, Marilyn Giles said the hospice staff help her over the phone when the couple has unexpected and immediate care needs.

“If I have an emergency or he has an emergency, I just call and there’s somebody here within a few minutes,” Marilyn Giles said. Additionally, she has received instructions over the phone that help her continue caring for her husband.

The Giles are an example of a family who is making use of home hospice care over a longer period of time, Sabinish said.

“People hear hospice and they figure we’re the grim reaper, but we don’t want to be that,” Sabinish said.

Another misconception Sabinish hears about hospice is that it’s largely for treating cancer patients. It’s more than that, she said.

Donald Giles has end-stage heart and lung disease. Four and a half years ago, the doctors told them there was not much more they could do, Marilyn Giles said.

It will be a different goodbye than one they said together many years ago.

One of the Giles’ sons, Frank, died when he was 4 years old.

“When our son died, he died immediately,” Marilyn Giles said. “And that was hard to get over, because it was immediate.”

This time is different.

“I’ve known for a year and a half that Donny’s passing away, and he’s known it for a year and a half that he’s passing away,” Marilyn Giles said. “We expected it sooner, but he’s here and I get to spend this time with him. … I mean, I’m not happy that he’s leaving, because I enjoy his company and so forth, but I’ve had this much time to get used to the fact that he’s not going to be here.”

Marilyn Giles has painted a box to put her husband’s ashes in. She will be buried with the box, and with the cast of their two hands, which was made for them by a hospice worker.

“We are set,” Marilyn Giles said. Forever together, Donald and Marilyn.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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