TODAY’S LESSON FROM HOSPICE

Small musings with big implications.

So where was I the last month or so? Well, rest assured I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere.

December was a wonderfully busy time, full of small craft shows, big sales, and lots of entertaining at our house. We attempted to have everyone we’d ever thought about having over, over. It was mostly successful, which meant back-to-back dinners, parties, multiple Yankee Swaps, etc. We missed a few important folks, but made a final sweep and got most of them over, too.

In early January, I was called in for a vigil, to sit by the side of a person who had perhaps days to live. The person had requested company, and I was one of the team of volunteers who sat with her for several hours each day.

The days stretched into weeks. She was waiting for something, it turns out. The strength of the human spirit astonishes me once more. More about that phenomenon another time.

The point of today’s musings is something I thought of a lot during those precious weeks:

Some things cannot be cured.
But they

    can

be healed.

In our modern Western culture, we sometimes confuse the meaning of those two words. Yet they are the very core of hospice work.

At first glance, it is about the medical care. We cannot cure what is killing you, says hospice. But with palliative care, with understanding and support, we can ease the pain, soothe the soul and be there for you. You don’t have to fight. You can simply….be. Whatever that looks like for you.

The care is so profound, sometimes people rally wonderfully. They gain a few days, a few weeks. Their passing is eased.

Because the care is healing.

It is a theme very much in my thoughts these days, one of the gifts of hospice.

We tend to think of things in black-or-white, right-or-wrong, fixed-or-broken. It’s a natural brain state, this polarization of thoughts, concepts, perception.

I myself tend to be extremely judgmental, a tendency that has caused me much grief in my life.

But as I get older and accrue some wisdom, I find myself more fascinated by the gray areas.

Someone can wrong me terribly. Yet I can see now their actions really have everything to do with who they are, and nothing to do with me.

Doesn’t mean I love ‘em, though. I’m not a candidate for sainthood yet. I can work on the forgiving part. Forgetting is harder. (Probably something to do with self-preservation, would be my guess.)

I can love someone, yet understand their shortcomings. I can ask this thing of them, but not that thing. Don’t ask something that’s made to carry bread, to carry water.

I can see that the things that annoy me hugely in other people, are things I do myself. And I can see that the things I hate about myself, my weaknesses, are sometimes my strengths.

As hard as it is for me to forgive others, I see it’s even harder to forgive myself.

And so even as we mindlessly scurry about to get that assignment done, to run our errands, to win that argument, to fuss about our stuff, we can suddenly run right smack up into the face of death. Either in someone close to us. Or a perfect stranger. Or ourselves.

What’s important, when we find the bottom dropped out of our oh-so-ordinary lives?

I’m seeing that it’s not our accomplishments (though they have their place in the world.) It’s not our fancy homes and cars and vacations.

It’s who we loved, and how we loved. And that we loved. It’s who loved us, and who we wish had loved us.

We can never even know where our acts of love finally traveled. We launch a little paper boat in a swiftly turning river, and have to trust that it eventually traveled far enough to do somebody some good.

That….is faith. Doing the loving thing even when you can’t be sure it did a damn bit of good.

Because in the end, it is the work of our heart that stays with us, until finally, there isn’t even that. Just us, taking that last step alone. Because that’s how it works.

Yes, there are family feuds. We’ve all got ‘em. There are wrongs that were never righted. We’ve all seen the wars that never ended because of that. There are misunderstandings that were never sorted out. There was potential that was never used, and strengths that were never honored. As the old prayer goes, there are things we have left undone, and there are things we ought not to have done.

In the end, there is simply someone sitting as the light wanes, holding your hand. No words. Just being there.

Such things things in life cannot be fixed. They cannot be cured.

But they can be healed.

P.S. Just so you know I’m really NOT a saint or an angel, let me just say there are still a few people I’d really like to smack, okay?

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13 Comments

Filed under art, hospice, lessons from hospice

13 responses to “TODAY’S LESSON FROM HOSPICE

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful post. Hospise & those who provide the care are amazing.

    I’m reading the “nibble theory” via your recommendation. What I keep looking for in the book is how to deal with the nibbles. The book does a good job of describing all the nibbles but HOW does one respond when people are nibbling at you??? how do you do it? This is my big struggle ~ any ideas or suggestions? I’d love it.

    Thanks for your time ~ love your blog. Tam

    • You can still buy this book, it’s very inexpensive and it’s a fast read.
      There really isn’t a “fix”. But knowing it is NOT about you helps a lot. If and when you do respond, you can take it off you and put it gently back on the other person.
      I’m still struggling with it, too. But it really does help to know it’s not something I have to pick up. It’s like feeling you have to pick up after someone else’s dog. Oh, that may not be a good analogy!

  2. What a wonderful, inspiring and thought provoking post. Thank you and thank you for the work you do with Hospice. I lost a friend a few years ago. Hospice was called in the last days of her life. It is true that their, your, presence is healing. They made that very sad and very difficult time ever so much easier for all of us. You are truly angels on this earth and God bless you abundantly!

    • Thank you for for kind words, Gaye. It really isn’t about what I/we DO, it really is a gift to be there for someone.
      You would be astonished at the number of people you probably already know who do hospice work. It’s hard to talk about it and still respect people’s privacy, and it’s hard not get too carried away. But it is incredibly powerful stuff.

  3. Your wisdom and your way of imparting it are so amusing and amazing to me Miss Luann. Thank you for these timeless lessons. You have touched a deep place in my soul today. Thank you. Thank you for being you and for being there for those under hospice care. You may not be a saint, and for the record, I am not either, but I do bless you.
    Enjoy the day.
    Erin

  4. Moushka

    Wonderful reflections, full of truth. I’m facing this walk with my father, whose health has deteriorated rapidly in the past few months. Your words profoundly reflect my own thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to articulate your experience.

  5. Thank you so much for your post. Your words and thoughts can help someone (or their caretakers) at the end of life or the members of families that are in the midst of dealing with difficult issues. You may not be a saint but I think I would like you holding my hand at the end of my life.

  6. Randi

    This post resonated with me – the truth of it hit home, maybe healed a part of me that needed it. And I loved the last line, made me laugh out loud, and who doesn’t like a good laugh now and then. Thank you!

  7. I had the good fortune to sit with my Mother during her hospice stay. Although she was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, the time we were together had great value. Maybe not for her, but certainly for me. Hospice is so important and it did heal her pain. So very valuable!

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