During the late 1970s, the Reverend Donald C. Wilson started the Lancaster community on a discussion about death, dying and hospice care through his series of articles, Terminal Candor, written from the perspective of his own illness. “Dying people need to feel in control of their dying days, to retain dignity,” said Wilson, former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster.
The Lancaster community embraced the idea and support came from local hospitals, physicians, churches, health care and service organizations.
Rev. Wilson died one month before Hospice of Lancaster County cared for its first patient on March 11, 1980, the date the organization recognizes as its anniversary. That first year, 45 patients were cared for by the organization’s two staff members and six volunteers. Today, the organization includes more than 380 employees and 1,000 volunteers who provide care for nearly 50 percent of the people who die in Lancaster County each year. Hospice & Community Care, founded as Hospice of Lancaster County, is honored to provide palliative and hospice care to more than 400 patients and their families each day and bereavement support to more than 5,000 children, teens and adults each month in Lancaster, York and Adams counties, and surrounding regions.
In 1978, Donald C. Wilson published a collection of his writings he had done for the local newspaper, The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, in book form. The book engaged readers in such topics as hope, fear, death and life. He drew on his personal experience with terminal cancer and his time as a pastoral leader to eloquently discuss aspects of terminal illness, and why a hospice program was needed in the Lancaster community.
Foreword to Terminal Candor by Julie F. Wilson, daughter of the Reverend Donald C. Wilson
On the 30th anniversary of Hospice & Community Care, founded as Hospice of Lancaster County, 2010, as I re-read the Foreword to that first edition, so eloquently written by Dr. Paul Davidson, I am aware that while much has changed in 30 years, both for Hospice and the Lancaster County community, much remains the same. The pressures of 20th Century life that Dr. Davidson describes remain, perhaps even more intensified in the 21st Century, and Death remains the final event in the human experience. Terminal Candor remains as relevant today to all of us who struggle with our issues of death, dying, grief and the ultimate celebration of life as it was in 1980. I believe that I am blessed to have a perspective in 2010 that no one had in 1980. I know what happened next. I know that Lancaster County embraced the hospice concept.
Since 1980, Hospice & Community Care, founded as Hospice of Lancaster County, has both refined and expanded on its Mission and its Vision statements. The growth of the agency has been phenomenal, confirming my father’s belief that there was a real need for a hospice program in Lancaster. The “cons” presented in that first edition of Terminal Candor, especially with regard to the possibility of establishing a free standing facility apart from a hospital where people could receive compassionate end of life care, have been refuted by the Lancaster community. The Essa Flory Hospice Center, the Bob Fryer & Family Inpatient Center in Mount Joy and the Pathways Center for Grief and Loss are powerful evidence that this is so. Donald Wilson had a hope, an expectation even, that there could be a way for this community to allow death and dying to become a part of life and living; He might say “We need to live and die out loud.” I certainly think he came to regard the establishing of a Hospice in Lancaster as not only the final act of his more than 30 year ministry, but also the most important part of this ministry. He began a dialogue with the community that continues and encourages people to embrace mortality, their own as well as others, rather than avoid it. I remember a comment he once made, that “people who are dying are ‘dying’ to talk about it.” I think this is true.
Dad had a vision, but Hospice & Community Care, founded as Hospice of Lancaster County, is what it is today because many people came to share that vision. Hospice is not about numbers, despite impressive statistics. Hospice is about a community that came to embrace a vision and expand upon it. Hospice demonstrates the power of the “Widow’s Mite”. It started with only a couple of patients and a very small budget, but it now provides hospice and palliative care to almost half of the individuals who die each year in Lancaster County.
I am proud of my father and I am proud of the Lancaster community for responding with such support and affirmation to the challenges and opportunities Dad presented. I am also proud of my mother, Barbara Wilson Rowen. Mother made hospice her cause, too, for the rest of her life. I hope this online edition reaches a wider readership than a printed edition would and I hope that it helps us all to live fully, after the trumpet’s call.
With love to my parents, the staff and volunteers at Hospice & Community Care, founded as Hospice of Lancaster County, and the citizens of Lancaster County for helping to create something wonderful.