I know you’ve heard that death is part of the continuum of life. Being a caregiver is part of the continuum of being you and me.
I heard a hospice doctor say that hospice honors all of life, including that part of life that we call dying. Hospice is health care dedicated to the idea that a person reaching the end of life is still a full person, and deserves to be treated that way. It started as a movement to transform that time in the course of an illness when people used to say, “There is nothing more to do.” Hospice is the response that there a lot more to do.
We can relieve suffering, physical suffering as well as emotional and spiritual suffering. We can resolve most physical pain. We can make sure someone isn’t facing their last days and moments alone. We can be the one trusted to hear a familiar story told for the last time, or a private story told for the first time. Or we can just be there when all story-telling is done.
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, one day you will have someone close to you whose days are growing short. When it happens, stay close. It is an opportunity for both of you. Hospice workers, the nurses and social workers and chaplains and aides and volunteers who do this work, will tell you it is a privilege to be with someone at the end of life.
You might be thinking that hospice workers must be odd people – that’s a common view. It’s also common for people to say, “They are angels.” Hospice workers will be happy to accept the complement. But in a way that diminishes what they do. Because they are not angels or super humans possessed of superpowers. They have educated themselves, and honed their skills, but they are just regular humans who have learned how to be with someone who is dying.
A few weeks ago I got a letter from a man praising the team who took care of his wife. He asked me, “Where do you find these people?” I had to smile, because I knew that the members of the team were people who have lived not too far from him most of their lives. We found them from among his neighbors. It is a good thing to be able to so surprise someone with how good you are that they ask, “Where did you come from?”
Perhaps someday, when you find yourself daring to be present with someone who is at a critical point in life, this is something you will ask of yourself, “Where did that come from? On top of everything else, am I a caregiver too?”