I read an article that had a sentence in it that really resonated with me – “we are all healers and we are all in need of healing.” I thought about this in relation to hospice work. I think many people believe that healing would not be a part of hospice since patients are referred to hospice due to a terminal condition and the fact that medical science has been unable to “heal” them. However, I think there are many ways that hospice staff do provide healing for the patient and their loved ones and find healing for themselves in the process of the experience.
As a hospice social worker, the focus of our work is helping patients and their loved ones in coping with the present situation, dealing with day-to-day quality of life issues and assisting with future caregiving issues and concerns. We sometimes label the patient/family work as “anticipatory griefwork” or we talk about “unfinished business” or “stages of grief.” We recognize that death and dying are a natural part of life that we all have to face at some point and we find ways to help people come to terms with something profound. Letting go of life and saying goodbye to someone you love.
Our nurses ensure that the patients are physically comfortable. The social workers provide emotional support. Our Chaplains provide spiritual support. The Home Health Aids ensure that the patients and their environment are clean. Our Volunteers provide their time for family respite or being with a patient at the end. And our Bereavement Counselors provide support to families after the death of the patient. All of the staff work together as a Team to be there for the patients and their loved ones. We cannot change the situation, but we can be there and help them through it.
In countless end of life situations over the years, I have seen that the thing that seemed to matter the most was knowing someone cares. That the person who is dying matters. That the feelings of pain and loss are universal. Being present and sharing this profound experience with patients and families seems to refocus one’s life. The issues we all deal with in this life – race, religion, sex, height, weight, sexual orientation, material possessions, status, etc – go out the window at the end. The only thing that matters is the love in the room. The care and compassion between the patient, loved ones and staff. When hospice staff are present for a patient and their loved ones at the end, it can be healing for the patient and family. And when the patient and family allow you to share this sacred experience, it can be healing for you.
In the end I believe that we are all healers and we all need healing. Whether in hospice or in our daily lives. We can find a way to show others that they matter and we care and in the process we help to heal their life wounds as well as our own.