Two women in different continents came up with the same incredible idea that we still know today as hospice or palliative care, giving shelter to the dying and the ill. When I think about the word “shelter,” I think of how the elderly, sick, and dying deserve one thing, which is “dignity.”
Dame Cicely Saunders and Mother Teresa both understood this, that dignity was the key for all human beings in these situations. Poor or rich, no matter your cultural or religious background, each and every person deserves to die with dignity and peace of mind.
I personally never thought of dying until I was a candy-striper in Ottawa, Canada, during a summer holiday while visiting my father, when someone in the hospital where I worked died and that really made me sad. This is when I realized that we are often alone during difficult moments in life. But when death is around the corner, everyone needs that person who is willing to hold your hand and help you to let go. This is when I became interested in hospice and nursing care…
As I was saying earlier, the nurses and staff members who work specifically in hospice have a little extra humanity; I would like to call them “mensch.” They give this care knowing how important these last days are in a person’s life, how important it is to give it your all.
The staff in these hospice places are in one word incredible. They have to not only deal with the patient, but also with the patient’s entire family dynamics. I am in awe when I see the patience, the utmost gentleness, and the extra care they give the families, especially the ones that sleep there in the room with the patients. They encourage you when you need that extra shoulder, they say the right things at the right moments to give you a little cheer.
For example, in my case, they encouraged me to take a little stroll through the garden, and when I tried to protest, saying “What if he dies just when I leave?” Their answer: “It was meant to be.” They explained that it might not make me feel better, but they know when you take that breath of fresh air from outside you can give the patient in there more of your loving care and nurturing just for having taken that walk.
As the staff helps you through every phase of the process by telling you what symptoms are next, you are slowly guided into the dying process as gently as they know how. Even though inside of you, your heart screams to get you out of there, you are bound with the invisible ties of love that bind you to the person in the bed. Even though you cannot recognize their bodies, you know that this is the only place you want to be.
Again, in my case, I have made several promises in my life to help someone see it through till their dying breath, and I have kept my word. Afterwards, you know what an enormous privilege this is to be asked for such a huge task. They believe in you and your strength so much that they want you with them. They not only need you, but it is your presence that gives them the strength to let go of this life as we know it. This is what I have learned… it is a privilege.
In a couple further blogposts, I will tell you the story of my best friend who passed on this April, but right now I just want to honor all hospice staff around the world.
You are doing amazing work. I so admire your dedication to see things through!
Hospice Renfrew Inc.
459 Albert Street, Renfrew, ON K7V 1V8