My hospice experience continues this month with bereavement training. It’s different than hospice. The class leader puts it succinctly. “Hospice ends”, she says. “Grieving never does.”
I want to also take the training for working with clients with Alzheimer’s. But I sense I should take it slowly. Let ALL the lessons sink in, stick with this next phase for awhile. See where it takes me. And see where I fit in.
One thing sticks in my mind from the training, and that is, with Alzheimer’s patients, you need to go where they are. Be where they are. Not insist they come back to you.
I think this must be harder for the friends and families, who are constantly reminded of the loss taking place in front of their very eyes.
For us volunteers, who come in at the end, perhaps not as hard. We’re there for a period, we only deal with what’s in front of us. There is humor, and tenderness, and comfort. Respite and peace.
And then the need is gone, and we move on.
Bereavement services start, my supervisor says, when the cards and casseroles stop coming.
My daughter recommended this movie about Alzheimer’s, “Grace” . Grace is a woman whose husband recorded her last years, showing the progress of her disease.
When I researched it, I find this moment compelling. In it, Grace anticipates her appointment with the hairdresser that day. But she’s already been to her appointment. The look on her face when she is told, breaks my heart.
If this were my mother, I’d probably do the same thing–try to bring her back to this reality. “Mom, you went already–don’t you remember? Mom!”
As an outsider, I can see that correcting Grace only brings fear (she realizes something is terribly wrong) and anguish (her excitement and happy anticipation is washed away.)
What does it matter if she’s forgotten? If you tell her she’s already had it done, she’ll just forget it again. And go through the fear and sadness again. And again.
If I meet her where she is–anticipating her appointment with gusto–maybe she wouldn’t have to go through that. (After all, she’ll also keep forgetting the appointment doesn’t come.)
If I were a volunteer working for this person, I might say, “You look so happy! What do you love about getting your hair done?” Or perhaps, “How will you get your hair styled today?” I would let her tell me her stories. I would let her hold on to her happiness, and her plans.
So there is hospice. And there is grieving. And there is Alzheimer’s, where so much of the grieving goes before.
Where do they all connect?
It’s about being, not doing. Being in the moment. My supervisor says, “There are a lot of recovering ‘fixers’ in hospice!” I am learning–slowly–not to fix. Or do. Just….be. (Trust me, trying not to fix things is really, really hard.) (REALLY really hard.)
It’s being present–being a witness to what is going on for that person, in that moment.
It’s being connected. And accepting that person for where they are, right now.
I remember a friend who told me years ago, “I like to believe people are all doing the best they can.” When people fail me, or hurt me, I try to remember that.
And when it’s me doing the failing, and the hurting, I try to remember that, too.
Hospice is teaching me that big, deep lesson.
It feels like amazing grace.