Fewer privileges in life are greater than being invited into a person’s home, but it’s a very special gift in such a time of change and challenge as the hospice setting. I am so thankful to my brave patients and their devoted families for the chance to bring comfort at the end of life.
Hospice care is intense, but also slow and sweet. My days are sometimes long, but they can go by in a flash. Every patient is a whole new story, making my time with each of them a discovery of loves and needs. I can’t fill all those needs, but I can be sure that my patient feels a little more ready to face the day, to enjoy that family gathering, that birdsong through the window, or “just” that bowl of strawberry ice cream. It’s a small thing that I can do in order to give back to them for all that they teach me.
My very first patient was a man with a great deal of quiet courage. It wasn’t until after my last visit with him that I realized how much more the loss of his music hurt him than his illness ever did. Only his wife and children could ease that pain… and they did, by celebrating it with him. I learned from their example that every day of our lives belongs to us, to the very last moment.
A year later, I cared for a lady whose charm had filled 90-plus years with a priceless appreciation for the simple, good things in life. She reached out to her fellow residents (in between visits from her family and lifelong friends) until the very end, including me, her “Hot Water Therapist.” Her warmth and grace still help me remember how positive and bright life can be, no matter what the diagnosis is.
And funny! I can’t possibly count the number of giggles I shared with my “Southern Belle.” One day she was paging through a photo album when I arrived. When I asked her where her family had come from, she said, “Oh… England, France…” Then she gave me her signature grin and said, “But I’m pure cracker!” We were still giggling when I left! I learned from this twinkling soul that fun and laughter ARE life.
It’s such an inspiration to see the caregivers in action, researching, advocating, and caring 24/7 for their loved one. They are absolute treasuries of helpful tips: that painful shoulder from a tractor mishap, that favorite song from their wedding, that no-lunch-is-complete-without-watermelon factor. I know how to use these things to help make a day better… but the caregivers know what those things are; I can’t do my best without these loving hearts.
I want to thank all my patients and their families, for allowing me to do this meaningful work, for giving me the chance to make a difference, for welcoming me into your homes, for this brief time at the end of a lifetime. And thank you for settling into my heart, permanently.