Every hospice worker has been asked this question at least once: "How can you do this work? It must be so difficult..." Every time I have tried to answer that question, I always begin touching upon those daily miracles hospice can bring which are about life. Hospice at its best is filled with gifts and populated with angels capable of bringing light to the darkness which can inhabit the end of life journey.
The gifts of hospice that people might not realize are best told in stories. A new patient finds pain relief on her second day on hospice, telling the doctor that for the first time in 6 months, she is without pain. Two sisters estranged from each other for over 30 years, have a powerful reunion after the patient requests the chaplain call her sister to let her know that she was dying. An exhausted wife, caring for her husband at home, finds the hospice team's help life-saving: there was no someone to help her bathe her husband, someone to help her find a specialized Alzheimer's care facility for him, and now a team of people who finally understood what she has been going through. In a hospice, a lonely gentleman in a care facility finds a new friend with whom to play cribbage. A family signs in relief, saying, "Finally medical people who really list to us."
The presence of the hospice team--medical professionals trained in the management of pain at the end of life and the nuances of the end of life journey--can bring so many gifts to patients and families. They can bring comfort, a listening ear, ways to make a patient more comfortable, assist families in expressing their heart to their loved ones who are ill, and share much needed laughter. They can also share a tear, silently hold a hand, sing a song, or receive with care the sharing of difficult emotions. The hospice relationship between patient/family and hospice team together find the humane in the human.
After weeks of illness and hospitalization, a frail elderly woman was admitted to a hospice house. One nurse sat with her husband and fed him such lunch while others admitted her into her room. When they called him back into her room, he saw that they had bathed her, done her hair, and put a touch of lipstick on her lips. She was now decked in a brand new nightgown they had provided for her. He was moved to tears by the tender care offered to her, and he told them, "I don't know how to thank you, she is beautiful again. You have given back my sweetie."
There are so many ways in which hospice care elevates, respects, and brings forth the humane within the human as it practices its gifts of life.