Working With the Terminally Ill

It's something most people don't want to think about. But it's a situation millions of Americans face each year — what to do with a loved one who is seriously ill. For many locals, the Houston Hospice is the answer. As Bill Stamps reports, families see the workers as angels.
image of Houston HospiceCathy Flynn and Jim Barclift have what some might call stressful jobs. Cathy is a nurse. Him is a chaplain. They both work for Houston Hospice — a place where people go when they don't have long to live.

"We do get very close to the families and that's OK."

I met Cathy and Jim early in the morning with the idea of doing a story about what its like to work with death on a daily basis. Their interviews were insightful, but what happened next was much more powerful.

I followed them to the second floor where we met Carol Simonton. Her husband Steve was in the next room laying on a hospital bed. He looked like he was asleep, but he wasn't. He has Glioblastoma, an incurable brain tumor. After fighting the disease for a year and a half, his life is coming to an end.

"Monday, April 6th the doctors stopped the steroids, which were reducing the swelling in his brain. And the doctor said that once he came off the steroids, the swelling would return. And with each increasing day, he would become more lethargic, sleep more and more until the point that he would not wake up."

Carol Simonton spoke from the heart as Cathy her nurse and Jim her chaplain simply listened.

"By Wednesday, his eyes were closed. He would respond to us, little short answers: love you — you know — hello."

The chaplain asked Carol about her faith. She said she and Steve were both believers. Although her faith is strong, she questions why God is letting the love of her life die. I asked her if she got the chance to tell Steve goodbye.

"We shared how much we meant to each other. He is my soul mate. And then it was important to me and I asked him, I said, 'are you ready'. He looked at me and said, 'trust me, trust me. I'm ready'."

image of Houston HospiceThe nurses and chaplains at Houston Hospice deal with heart wrenching cases everyday. They want to be strong for their patients but at the same time they don't want to come across as robots. Both Jim and Cathy believe the job is a calling.

"There is a drive and passion down deep and belief that this particular time of life when a person has been told to get your house in order."


"This is what I'm supposed to do. If I go home and feel like I've lifted someone's burden that day, then I feel like I've done a good job. "

Steve Simonton passed away this morning. He had just turned 58 on Friday.

Bill Stamps, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.