Michael Dalen, a life well lived

Michael Dalen, a life well lived

Dalen familyFor the majority of us, a life “well-lived” means we did our best to leave the world better than we found it. We loved our family. We worked hard at our job (whether paid or unpaid). We built a life around love and commitments and being the best version of ourselves we could be.

This is what I think of when I think of Michael Dalen. Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Michael’s wife Ellen, daughter Nicole, son and daughter-in-law Jason and Kathleen, and his very special granddaughter Abby.

Described as easygoing and well-liked, Michael spent his career in service to others. He served his country in the Air National Guard where he retired after 30 years. He also served as a teacher, and then a drug and alcohol counselor. His dedication to helping others was evident, but his family knew that no matter what was happening around them, they were his priority.

“He made sure his family had everything they needed or wanted, even if he had to give something up for himself,” Ellen shares. When Michael’s doctors recommended Kansas City Hospice, his family didn’t yet understand the scope of what that would mean, but they quickly became believers in this holistic model of care.

Michael Dalen “He just always did what was best for the family,” Nicole shares. “And in turn, he knew we knew hospice was best for him. It was taking a toll being in the ER every two weeks. It was hard on him and it was hard on mom. If it weren’t for hospice, the end of his life would have been miserable. His family and friends were around, but it was hospice who took care of him the last 7 weeks of his life.”

Michael and Ellen moved to an apartment, which offered assisted living for him and rehab for Ellen as she underwent treatment for melanoma. Unfortunately, just as they were moving in, Ellen experienced an allergic reaction to her immunotherapy and ended up in the hospital the same day Michael entered into assisted living. Weeks later, they switched places with Ellen now ready to leave the hospital and Michael entering at the same time.

“We never really ended up being together at the end,” Ellen notes. “We had eight weeks from the last trip to the hospital, to the end, but the Kansas City Hospice staff was very caring, very much there, keeping him comfortable.”

Jason, who coordinated most of both parents’ care needs in Michael’s last months, appreciated the support and information provided to him and the family from Michael’s KCH caregivers. It was a lot of shuffling between locations as both parents were quite ill at once, but he did his best to ensure they had everything they needed. Just as they had done for him and his sister for so many years.

“Before this,” Nicole went on to share, “I didn’t know hospice did things like provide the right kind of bed and all of the other things that made him comfortable. Things like adult briefs, medication… just everything. The people, the nurses, the chaplain who did an amazing ceremony to pay respect to him for being in the military, it was nothing like I expected. It was absolutely amazing. I think that 7 weeks in hospice care was what helped us all get through the end and say goodbye to him.”

Michael, Abby and Ellen

This was a frightening time for Ellen as she battled her own health issues and placed the care of her husband in the hands of their children. Luckily, she gained strength and was able to help Michael in his last days. Ellen shared that after Michael’s death she hit a rough spot in her grieving, called a KCH grief support specialist, and quickly received the help and guidance she needed to navigate her grief journey.

Abby, just 14 at the time, shares, “I had never experienced death and the grieving process before but just as he was there for me everyday, taking me to school and so much more, I wanted to be there for him. Watching him decline was a lot and changed my views on how you live your life. The most important thing is to cherish the little moments with the people you love and live every day to the fullest.” Each day, Abby is reminded of her grandfather’s love and the support from KCH as she holds the one-of-a-kind teddy bear made by a KCH volunteer using a shirt she fondly recalls as a favorite of her grandfather.

When the roles were reversed and the children had to step in to take care of their parents, they did so with love and respect. They wanted to ensure their parents received the best care available just as they had provided to them. Though a tough role to step into, with the support of friends and the expert care and guidance received from a team of support from KCH, they achieved their goal. Michael had a peaceful death, surrounded by love. Thankfully, Ellen is back home and doing well.

Provide comfort to families like the Dalens