Caring for ‘Big Joe’: A Family Reflects on Help from Hospice
The children of Joseph Reich Jr. describe him as being “larger than life,” and to many in his beloved Colorado Springs community he was known fondly as “Big Joe.”
“At 6-foot-6, he was a very tall gentleman with broad shoulders. He walked tall and was a proud man,” said Joe’s daughter, Marianne Mason. “There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for somebody. If he gave you his word, you knew it was going to be done.”
After retiring from the Navy with the rank of Captain, Joe became a well-known real estate broker in the city where he was born and raised. There, he and his wife, Ann, raised four children together, and he adored his eight grandchildren. When not busy working, socializing with friends and family, actively engaging in his church community or attending to his numerous civic duties, Joe was a keen sportsman — a passionate fly fisherman, skier, and cyclist. (On summer weekends, he rode his bicycle 50 miles from Colorado Springs to Cañon City! Ann would meet him for dinner at the old Belvedere Italian restaurant before driving them both home.)
Joe lived life to the fullest. In his later years, he never complained as he battled a number of health issues that often come with advanced age. Last year, at age 84, his health deteriorated rapidly after a vascular surgery. That’s when his family reached out to Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care (PPHPC).
Reaching Out to Hospice
While the weight of that decision was initially tough to bear, Joe’s family say they immediately found the support and comfort they needed. Marianne was her father’s primary caregiver when she first talked with the doctor at PPHPC who would be leading Joe’s care.
“I’m obviously not a medical professional, but Dr. Poppe Ries kind of validated what I was seeing. It’s very, very complicated as a child to somebody, being my dad’s daughter, to come to grips with ‘This is the end.’ You just kind of feel a little bit lost.”
Marianne said hospice care brought peace and acceptance in a difficult and confusing time.
“When Dr. Ries confirmed what we knew in our heart of hearts, it made us feel like now all we need to do is enjoy the time we have left with him — to say the things we want to say and not worry about whether or not we’re making the right choices. Just love him and spend time with him,” she said.
Connection and Care in Those Precious Final Days
In Joe’s final days, his hospice care team offered respite from the physical care duties, allowing his family to focus on making the most of their time with him.
“He died at home surrounded by his family. We had children home from college, and little ones running around, and lots of great food. All of those people that he mentored and that were his friends in this community, they would stop by and they would sit with him and had opportunities to say their goodbyes. It was just a truly beautiful time for the family to be together, and for him to feel that love,” said Joe’s daughter-in-law Michelle Reich.
Michelle says PPHPC enabled Joe’s family to feel confident that their dad was comfortable and had everything he needed. She appreciated the individualized care that took into account Joe and his family’s unique preferences and needs.
“You feel as if [the hospice team] is custom-crafting a program or a series of steps just for this particular case,” she said.
Michelle pointed to the example of scheduling and administering medication: “They worked so closely with the family to determine what the family wanted and needed of them. They’re so good at gauging and responding to those individual circumstances.”
Marianne said the PPHPC team was calm, gentle and always respectful of Joe’s dignity as they tended to his physical care needs. She was touched by the genuine compassion they brought to their work: “You could feel that when the nurse was there, this isn’t just another number or just another patient to them. They truly understood what we were feeling.”
She said Joe’s hospice care team — including his doctor, nurses and chaplain — made all the difference for her family in those final days with their dad.
“They made you feel like you could breathe and that everything was going to be okay.”
Care that Continues After Death
In the hours immediately following Joe’s death on March 2, 2020, the inconspicuous efficiency and experience of the hospice care team was greatly appreciated by Joe’s loved ones needing to mourn and just be.
“We didn’t have to call the funeral home. They handled it all. They showed up, they were quiet, and they were out of the way. They didn’t need anything from us; they allowed us to grieve,” said Michelle.
“They’re not just there for the patient. They’re there for the survivors as well. I think all of us kids received a phone call letting us know about the counseling services, and checking in on us, making sure we were okay,” said Marianne.
The Reich family hopes others who are faced with a similar situation — the serious illness or approaching death of a loved one — will be able to experience the same support they received from compassionate, experienced experts in hospice care.
“Reach out. Call them sooner rather than later,” said Michelle. “They are truly angels on Earth.”