Final Comfort: Hospice group helps terminally ill face last days

Lida Avetisyan’s sad eyes hardly conceal emotions. Her glance switches from the medicines on the table to the Bible. Medicines are helpless for Lida, who is suffering from cancer, but the human warmness and care make her forget the awful pains, mercifully granting her pleasant moments during the last months of her life.

Lida gets care from volunteer nurses and doctors at the Husaber charitable fund that in addition to the nursing provides patients with food, hygienic articles, psychological and spiritual support.

“When the patient does not have any hope for recovery, he and his relatives face the sorrow alone. We try to socially and psychologically support those families during the illness of their dear one as well as after his death,” says program coordinator of the fund Ruzanna Hayrapetyan.

Since 2001 Husaber in collaboration with the National Center for Oncology provides hospice services; families with terminally-ill patients are chosen for support according to need.

So far Husaber has provided services to 102 people.

According to statistical data nearly 3,500 people annually die of cancer in Armenia, 45-50 percents of which need palliative and social-psychological support.

“The patient and his relatives should be prepared for sorrow; that we can’t treat – instead we need to alleviate the physical and the psychological pain,” says Chief Doctor at Husaber Ashkhen Avagyan.

The psychological pain is alleviated by means of prayers, and when requested special rituals for the ill. House blessing are made, sacrament is brought from church, the Narek (“The Book of Lamentations” by Grigor Narekatsi) is read. Some patients wish to be baptized, despite being atheists throughout life.

“One of the patients asked for a mass recording and listened to it all the time, saying that the pains alleviate while listening. Belief, realization that it is not the end, belief in the eternal life really comfort them,” says Avagyan.

The most difficult and the most responsible job is that of nurses, who get close with the patients and suffer their deaths as a family member.

Ruzanna Hayrapetyan says psychologists work also with the nurses. “It is easy for an ordinary doctor: if one of the patients dies, others recover. In this case we deal only with dying ones, that is why we must be strong and psychologically prepared.”

“Everything is done to make the last days of the people painless as much as possible and free of psychological worries. In this case even death is perceived as a victory, when the person passes away in peace, without sufferings,” says Avagyan.

The daily mimimum expenses per patient is $10, which is a difficulty for the Husaber fund, since few people understand the significance of its mission.

“In many countries, in Russia this is provided by the state budget. We are supported by international organizations, but we hope the government and the society will take measures to support us,” says president of Husaber, Father Babken Hayrapetyan.

The Father says concealing the diagnosis from the patient is also an important problem.

“All the same everybody feels, suffers inside and stays alone with his suspicions, dreads and fears,” says Father Babken.

“One should be psychologically disposed, prepared, many wish to confess after they learn, they want to conciliate, to forgive and purify their souls. It is an important issue – whether to tell the truth, or not…”