Posted September 15, 2008 by
It’s Monday morning and almost 9AM. I’m still in my pajamas, at my desk, and I’m not going in to the office today.
I worked all weekend, leading a 3 day hospice volunteer training for a dozen people. The experience left me quite drained but also really grateful for the people who drove through record rain falls to spend three days in a conference room with me, learning about hospice, death and dying, and how they can help someone through their last days.
I always end up talking a lot about myself and my first experience with hospice in these trainings. All of us do, really. In each training session I ask various members of our team to come and speak to the volunteers, telling them a bit about themselves and what brought them to hospice. And almost every single one of them — the nurses, the social worker, our director and our clinical supervisor — have had a personal experience with hospice.
Yesterday one of our nurses, upon being asked what keeps her dedicated to this work, replied, "I believe that everyone has the right to experience a peaceful death." And I think that’s really quite profound. We don’t all get a peaceful death, that’s for sure. But hospice does its best to provide the most dignified and peaceful passing a person can experience.
I often use my parents as examples — my mother who never gave up, even when the doctors advised her to go home and seek hospice, and who died after too many experimental treatments in a hospital in Washington, D.C. And my father who chose to go home when there was nothing more that could be done to prolong his life. He had a couple of months in which to tie up the details of his life, in which he had time to sit with the people he loved and say all the things he wished to say.
These trainings are a long weekend of discussing death and how we feel about it. We talk about what we think happens when we die, we talk about purpose in life, we talk about how best to serve someone who is dying, we discuss the emotions and past losses that may come up for us in this work, and often the volunteers become emotional themselves throughout the training.
And after a weekend of sitting at the head of a boardroom table, doing my best to facilitate these conversations, answer everyone’s questions, and make sure lunch is arriving on time, I come home drained. Yesterday, at the end of it all, I sat on the couch with Greg in the late afternoon and cried.
But it was a good release and I’m so grateful that there are a dozen people I now know who are willing and prepared to go into nursing homes and sit with our lonely, dying patients, or who are up for running errands for our stressed out families who are too busy caring for their loved one to get out of the house themselves, or who will check in on those same families after our patients die. I’m so grateful that there are people who are willing to give of themselves in this way. And I’m grateful for the strength to help them do it.
Greg has a new piece up on The Huffington Post: David Foster Wallace, We Just Met.