For nearly 20 years, hospice advocate Mona Hanford has helped
families prepare for the death of a loved one. A month into writing a
book about the topic, she found out she had terminal cancer.
BY MARGARET ENGEL
AS MONA HANFORD sits at the dining room table in her Bethesda home on a recent afternoon, a hive of activity unfolds. The neighbors who came over with lunch are on their way out as another friend walks through the door. “Come on in,” Hanford calls out to the woman, who’s here to help her organize family photos into a book titled “A History of Mimi.” (That’s what her grandchildren call her.) Hanford’s bridge partner just checked in by phone, and a friend is unloading a box of dinner supplies in the driveway. Someone brings meals for Hanford, 75,
nearly every day so she doesn’t have to cook.
“It’s a little crazy in here,” Hanford, a recently published author, admits.
Her friend and co-author, Adrienne Hand, is sitting nearby taking a call. “Mona’s life is always like
this,” she says, laughing.
Hanford, an end-of-life activist who’s volunteered
with local hospices and counseled families on how to
prepare for a loved one’s death, decided last October
to write the book she’d been contemplating for years.
She’d helped nurse her husband, Bill, through eight
years of a debilitating illness before he died at home,
with hospice care, overlooking the lush backyard he
loved. She’d retired from her career as a development
officer for nonprofits and was finally ready to write
a guide to the conversations families need to have
about death. The slim paperback—titled The Graceful
Exit, 10 Things You Need To Know: Face Reality, Make
Wise Choices and Find Hope at the End of Life— was
released in March and immediately landed on The
Washington Post’s paperback nonfiction best-seller
list, a rare feat for a self-published book.
She and Hand, the daughter of Hanford’s best
friend, finished it faster than they’d planned. About
a month into writing the book, Hanford had routine
minor surgery and was shocked to learn soon after
that she had endometrial cancer. The cancer was stage
4, she was told, and had already spread to her lungs.
She’s since had more surgery and is receiving chemotherapy, but her doctors emphasize that treatment
may contain, but won’t cure, the disease.