I saw many different reactions when I told people that I was going to be working at a hospice for six months. Although everyone was very supportive, I could tell by the looks on their faces and their body language that it made many people uncomfortable. It was evident that some folks wanted to ask more questions, but end of life is not a subject that people discuss openly, and most would rather put it out of their mind, until it becomes a necessity.
I was lucky enough to have spent some time at Bethell Hospice before my official PULSE assignment started as it is in my local community. This gave me great insight into what to expect. People have asked me if it is sad or depressing to work in this type of environment, and my answer has always been a resounding “no”. What I am learning is that the focus of a hospice is caring, not curing, and on life, not death.
In this blog I want to shed some light on hospice care and take some of the mystery away.
Hospice is a sad place to work – FALSE (with a little bit of True)
Yes, it is sad when a life ends, for the families of the resident and for the staff who have created a relationship with the person. However, staff at the hospice have told me that they feel that it is an honour to be allowed to spend the last phase of someone’s life with them, listening to them recall their childhood memories, hear stories of their life, and getting to know their family. They get to witness the resounding love that people have for each other. Knowing that a loved one will soon be gone is a sobering experience where people want the time to be soothing, relaxing and rewarding, for both the person who is ill and for family and friends who get to spend time with their loved one. This is a time to recall and celebrate the good things in this person’s life.
If you enter a hospice, you will never leave – FALSE
Hospice offers more than a place to live your last days. Hospice also offers respite for caregivers. We often have residents that will come to the hospice for a few days or a few weeks in order to allow their caregivers some time to take care of their own commitments, or for a much needed vacation. I am sure that we all have heard how grueling it can be to be a caregiver for an ailing person; this gives the caregivers a chance to recharge their batteries, knowing their loved one is well taken care of. At the end of the respite term, the resident returns to their familiar environment, with a caregiver who has had the chance to get some “me” time.
I have also seen residents enter the hospice with a dire prognosis, only to rebound and start to feel better. We know that they are not cured, but the TLC that they receive, combined with monitored medication, healthy foods, 24/7 nursing care, etc., sometimes has residents gaining weight, feeling better, and able to return home, or to an environment of their choice. Recently there was a resident at Bethell that left the hospice in order to enter a long-term care facility where her husband is staying. She is thrilled with her change since coming to Bethell, and excited at the prospect of seeing her husband every day.
There is nothing to celebrate at a hospice – FALSE
Bethell Hospice has seen a number of celebrations. One resident was married here. The volunteers rallied and provided all the food and decorations for an intimate ceremony for the resident, her husband, friends and family.
I have seen birthday parties held at the hospice with family members, including children and grandchildren attending. The joy that this brings to the resident is heart-warming, knowing that he/she can have that time with his/her family, even in a hospice environment.
I heard about one lively gentleman who decided that he wanted to attend his own wake (perhaps he was Irish?) at the hospice, and for it to be fun. His choice was to be part of the celebration of his life with his friends, sharing memories and farewells. How many of us would love to have that opportunity when the time comes?
Hopefully I have provided you with some insight into the hospice environment and how when we face our mortality it is wonderful to be able to do it in an environment that encourages the celebration of life.