40 for 40: Karen Tyner’s Story

In Spring 1982, my mother became a Hospice of Northern Virginia homecare patient and I a primary care giver, in addition to working and studying in the first year of my MSW program.  By July of that year, it was recommended that Mother go to the newly opened inpatient unit in Arlington for symptom management and 5 days of respite.  So off she went to that brightly lit and colored, renovated old schoolhouse now known as the Capital Caring Halquist Center.  She died there four days later.

The Northern Virginia Sun newspaper ran an article on August 21, 1983, about the priest, Father Jim Denn, who was working at this ‘new in-hospice’ facility and the first Mass that he said at a dying woman’s bedside.  Here is an excerpt from that article:

Fr. Denn’s favorite story about his work so far has to do with the first formal Mass he read in the hospice itself.

A Catholic patient in her 40’s was dying of brain cancer.  He knew this but didn’t think her death was imminent.  While he was planning for the first mass, one of the charge nurses came to him and asked if he would be willing to read the service in the patient’s room, saying she was too ill to be moved.  He agreed and served communion to the patient and her daughter, along with about 25 other patients and staff members who gathering in the room for the service.

“While I was reading I saw the nurse go over to the bedside with a blood pressure cuff.  A little bit later the charge nurse came into the room and stood by the bed until the service ended.  I knew something was happening.”

About an hour and a half later, the patient told her daughter, “I’m dying.”  She did die…………..

That woman was my mother, and I was her 24-year-old daughter, who was born just down the street in Arlington Hospital.

In 1984, I did my 2nd year MSW internship with the Hospice of Northern Virginia Bereavement Program and stayed on doing contract work for a couple of years co-leading grief support groups and workshops.  Through my 32 years of healthcare MSW work, I have used the grief theory knowledge I learned during my internship.

And now I’m back as a Bereavement Counselor with Capital Caring’s Prince William Region, where I have been since Fall 2011. It is my sincere hope to stay with Capital Caring until I retire.

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