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Marthaler family photo

“Whenever I heard ‘hospice,’ it was always a fear. To me it just meant the end of life was coming,” said Colleen. “Now I know hospice is a wonderful tool.”

“The staff helped us. They helped dad. My faith grew stronger. I definitely see the other side of it now,” she says.

Hospice provides quality of life and comfort for those at the end of life. It helps patients manage pain, makes them comfortable and supports them physically, emotionally and spiritually.

A lesser-known part of hospice is the support for families both before and after their loved one’s death.

The Marthaler family knows this first-hand.

Spiritual care for the patient AND their family

“We can take a really hard situation and really make it beautiful,” says Deb Hadley, Spiritual Care Coordinator at Knute Nelson. Part of her role is the lesser-known part of hospice: helping the family through the grief process both before and after their loved one’s death."

”The whole family gathers together and receives so much care and nurture from so many people. They bring us in at their most vulnerable time and they open their hearts to us,” she says.

Many families are at a loss when their loved one is at the end of their life. “So many times they don't know what to do. They don't know what to say and they're afraid,” says Deb. “I gather them around their loved one and they share what they love most about this person or how they've impacted their life.” This brings comfort and peace both to the person nearing death and “brings the family together and helps them embrace the situation they’re in.”

Since hospice staff takes care of the hands-on caregiving, “you can be the daughter or wife or son or husband – whoever you are, says Deb. “You can say everything you need to say and love on them.”

Grief doesn’t end after the dust settles

What we know is backed up by science. And the evidence is growing. Grief affects people both emotionally and physically, both before and after a loved one’s death. The process takes at least a year. Often longer.

“We provide comfort to the whole family with our bereavement follow up,” says Deb.  “After the family member passes away, then there's this whole family or the spouse left there to try to fumble through life. We're there to really support them.”

After a loved one dies a Bereavement Coordinator stays with the family for 13 months.  “The aftercare is amazing,” said Tina.

Throughout the 13 months, bereavement staff stay in touch with families to help them through their grieving process. “Grief just kind of goes on and on,” says Deb. “But time is a healer.“

“We provide as many resources, letters and phone calls as we can. We have grief groups that they can attend, which brings people who are in the same situation together. They can really grow and help each other through the process.“

"We do a lot of one-on-one as well. So much of it is just listening. Just to let them say what's on their mind, to let them get things out. To be the person they give it all to and then just help them heal through the process.”

“We want them to know that how they're feeling really is normal and that they can survive this,” she said.

She knows the grief process from experience. “Sometimes you feel like you're going crazy. We let them know that they're just not.”

The journey continues


Each year, Knute Nelson hosts a dove release for families whose loved ones died on hospice the previous year. The dove release had a particular impact on the Marthaler family.

“You write a message to your loved one,” says Dennis. “Then the doves bring it up to heaven and deliver it to them. It’s very touching.”

 “It's the last of life,” said Karen. “But definitely hospice helped us move along the journey with dad a lot easier than I ever expected.”

“Being able to get hugs and laughing,” said Janet. “I just thought it would be all sorrow, sorrow, sorrow. But they helped us see that this is part of life and how wonderful it is that we're all together and experiencing it with dad. It was truly, truly a wonderful journey.”

About Knute Nelson Hospice

Knute Nelson Hospice provides spiritual care, among an array of other life enriching services, skilled nursing and therapy services, throughout West Central Minnesota. For questions, visit or call (320) 759-1270 to connect with your local Knute Nelson Hospice team. We’re happy to help.