Diane Blair lived with faith, purpose and passion her entire life.
She was an amazing woman,” her daughter Alice Smith said. “She’s the strongest person I will ever know.” Known for her unwavering devotion to family, church and community, Blair opted for hospice care when she received a devastating diagnosis in August 2015.
Always on the go, the 82-year-old Charleston woman took herself to the Emergency Department when she started experiencing stabbing pains in her abdomen. Sadly, doctors discovered spots on her pancreas and a biopsy confirmed she had pancreatic cancer. “She took it way better than the rest of us,” her daughter said. “She just accepted that it was God’s plan and He knows best.”
Her family was heartbroken by the severity of the diagnosis. “We hadn’t even left the oncologist’s office and we were already talking about hospice care,” Smith said. Since surgery wasn’t an option, Blair was adamant about spending quality time with her family during her final days without the side effects of cancer treatment.
Smith and her three brothers respected their mother’s decision. “We all believed that was the best thing. We didn’t want to see her go through treatments that would only make her sicker.” Smith said. The family credits Lincolnland Hospice for easing their worries and providing the support they needed to make the most of their time together.
“Hospice is wonderful. Mom couldn’t say enough good things about them. Whenever we needed something, they were right on it,” Smith said. “We had almost seven months together. We had so many family gatherings during that time and she had so many visitors,” Smith said.
Thankfully, Blair felt well enough to continue her active lifestyle for the first few months. Notorious for always remembering birthdays and anniversaries, Blair was excited for an opportunity to plan a party for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren when she learned of Lincolnland Hospice’s Grand-A-Wish program. “She loved that she could take everyone out for a nice meal and celebrate all the birthdays that she wouldn’t be there for anymore,” Smith said. The Grand-A-Wish program offers end-of-life requests up to $500 to all its patients.
The birthday dinner turned into two separate gatherings at the Brick House in Charleston to accommodate differing schedules and travel plans. “It was a lot of fun,” Smith said. “We packed a table at the Brick House on two different days and she loved it.”
As her condition worsened, hospice caregivers were diligent about tending to the family’s every need, Smith said. “They were an endless source of compassion and strength. I can’t imagine going through this without hospice support.” Blair’s four children were all very devoted to her care, with son Paul, and his wife making a five-hour drive every weekend from their northern Indiana home to see her. Blair’s oldest, Grant, who lives in South Africa, made three trips home, surprising his mother on one occasion. Strong in her faith, her children made it a point, to accompany her to the First Christian Church until the last few weeks of her life.
Blair also had a constant stream of visitors, including many of the international students she had housed through the years. For years, she rented rooms to students from Nepal, Poland, Indonesia, Iran and Russia whom she treated like family. She was touched in 2015, when a former tenant awarded her with a plaque in honor of her 40-plus years of service to international students at Eastern Illinois University. She had worked at EIU for 29 years, serving for 16 years as publications manager.
Blair became close to hospice nurse Kay Wheeler, RN, and social worker Jessie Clapp. “They have both been so, so helpful, but Jessie teamed up with mom to write all four of us kids a letter before she passed. The letter was filled with so many memories and kind words – and she didn’t want us to open them until after she passed. That was so touching and I am forever grateful,” Smith said.
The last three days were especially hard, as the family held a bedside vigil until she passed on March 9, 2016. “She always felt very blessed and she kept telling us how awesome it was to have these last few months together,” Smith said.
Still grieving her loss, Smith is grateful for the bereavement counseling she continues to receive each month from Clapp. “I was in a bad way for awhile. I still can’t believe she’s gone, but I’m very thankful for the support from hospice. Being surrounded by such caring, compassionate people enabled our family to live each day to the fullest as a gift from God.”
Lincolnland Hospice cares for people in 20 counties in East Central and Southern Illinois, regardless of their ability to pay, and provides comprehensive bereavement services. For more information about Lincolnland Hospice, call 1-800-454-4055.