When I graduated with my Master of Social Work (MSW) in 2008 I fell into hospice purely by accident. I was supposed to be interviewing for a hospital position. But when I arrived I found out I was interviewing for a hospice position. Long story short it was one of the best decisions of my life to interview for my first hospice position. I knew a little about hospice from school and other peers who had been involved in hospice but I was new out of school and new to hospice and I had a lot to learn. One of the biggest lessons I learned early on was Hospice is about living, not about dying.
I have been out of school for 12 years now and out of that 12 years, I have chosen a career in hospice for 7 of those years. I have found that I love working with people at the beginning of life and the end of life. Although opposite ends of the spectrum they have more in common than one might think. At the beginning of life, there is often this innate built-in sense of hope for this new person entering the first season of their life. As a social worker, I help families find this innate hope again as they or their loved one’s transition to another season of life.
Hope doesn’t die in hospice, but it does change and it is ok to have hope for different goals simultaneously. Hope for a fulfilling life, no matter the time left is one way I assist families. Helping someone fulfill a wish, big or small is a gift. Sometimes it is the little things in life though that mean the most. Like date night.
Bond and Shelly have been married for over 20 years but the last two years have not had much celebrating while she has battled brain cancer. In fact, they have spent the last two anniversaries in the hospital. Being as such, as her care team, we wanted to do something special for her and her husband this year. Although we cannot replace the time lost, we knew we could help them with the time she has now. Thus, began the vision for the date night basket. Due to her disease process, Shelly would have good days and bad days and some days a mixture. It was so hard to say when she would have a good day and for how long it would last. The beauty of a date night basket was we could bring the date to them so they could have their date whenever was best for them at a moment’s notice.
The date night basket our team in La Pine created was filled with all you would need for a date night in. We provided them with gold plates and fluted glasses, pink cloth napkins, sparkling rose nonalcoholic juice, flowers and lights for a centerpiece, a gift card to get takeout from their favorite local restaurant, an Anniversary Card from our team, and a white scalloped table cloth. The basket was quite adorable. The next part of this adventure would come to include their youngest son, 14-year-old Cougar.
When someone is ill, whether it is with a chronic illness or a terminal illness or a temporary illness, those closest often feel powerless or hopeless, because they cannot take away the pain that is hurting their loved one. We want those we love to feel good but there is only so much a person can do. But, there is SO much a person can do. Cougar learned this lesson with the date night basket.
When I delivered the basket, I had the chance to give it to Cougar without his Mom or Dad seeing it. I showed him all the details and items in the basket. I showed him how to set it up and we discussed how he would surprise his parents with this experience. The light and smile this young man gleamed with was a moment I will never forget. Cougar was going to give his parents the experience they had longed for over the past 2 years. He was going to surprise them with a romantic date night and he loved this idea.
I called Bond about a week later and he shared how Cougar set up the date night basket one night before he got home from work. Dinner was ready for him and Shelly and they were in awe at the job Cougar had done getting the table and the decorations set up. As Bond talked about their date night, I could hear him smile through the phone. I could envision the happiness on his face. He was so happy with it he expressed his hope that we can do this for others in the future. This experience of having their son surprise them and having the gift of a night of normalcy, an amazing experience, was priceless.
This is one example of why I love hospice. This is one example of why hospice is about living, not about dying. I have no clue how many patients or family members I have had the privilege of interacting with during my 7 years of hospice or in my 12 years of social work. But I do know the feeling of moments like this are more fulfilling than I could ever express in writing or words. People will grimace when I tell them I work in hospice and say how hard it is to do this job. I just smile and tell them I love it. It is moments like this Date Night why I love hospice and moments like this are why I say falling into hospice was one of the best decisions of my life.