Sunday, February 12, 2012


One thing that has been important in the Hospice movement since the very beginning, is stories. We see moments of caring, heroism, courage and love ..... and in sharing the stories we make them continue to grow. People that we knew, in a way departed, but in a way living on in our memories of their courage and faith, and having their spirit spread by ripples of word of mouth - resonating from soul to soul.

One of my nurses attended a funeral last week - it is not uncommon in hospice, nurses can become a part of precious moments, and sometimes being present is not a simple action of supporting a family in bereavement, but a part of our own closure..... we learn we can at the same time maintain professional boundaries but also let ourselves care, i refer to it as having boundaries but breaking down barriers..... (or sometimes "taking off the white coat.")

She brought me a copy of words from the memorial service, and here was a paragraph, quoting a song "If I could have another dance" by Everett Badmarsh......

"do not mourn the flower as the fruit grows on the tree,
Do not mourn the crested wave returning to the sea,
Do not mourn the starlight at the first glow of the dawn,
Though I might leave, I'm never gone."

The wonderful Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that "death the moment when we can feel much regret." At the same time, death can be a time of "happiness and peace." "As soon as we begin to practice the mindfulness trainings, .....we have happiness right in this life, and we do not have to wait for the moment of death.....then we shall know the happiness.....and shall have nothing to regret."

I had some months back the honor to care for a physician colleague in the last weeks of his life. He came to us expecting to be gone in a day, or two at the most, and lived more than 8 weeks. It was .....while not far away or in an exotic place or in a time of war or turmoil - an incredible "profile in courage." No - we do not need to go "over the mountains or across the seas" to see humanity, and caring and courage in the face of suffering .....what he said many times was that, "in hospice we treated him like family." And so many patients express this to us - they know we cannot cure them, but they want to feel that we care. And i have heard it over and over, "I'm not dead yet, i know you can't cure me but i want people to treat me like I'm still here."

Moments that we have can be golden moments, being present, just present, for a life review can be an act of significant caring.

I was speaking with a person recently who has lost a loved one, had actually been present, and told me that it was "the first time" that she had been present at the moment of death ..... and we in hospice are here day after day, in a place that becomes familiar for us ....,never ever mundane, always a sacred place of awe, always an honor to be present, but even when we cannot cure we can assist as a guide - each journey is new, each different, but we have traveled on this river before.

And so - for those of us not able to be Masters or Teachers, but wanting to make a difference, this is what we can do ....

if we cannot embody wisdom and compassion we can hope to accept from a greater power, just a little bit and to use it just for the moment, just for today....

if we cannot hope to end the suffering of all beings, let us strive to reduce the suffering of just one being, if we cannot remove it completely to just reduce that suffering just for the moment, just for today

if we cannot find perfect wisdom, let us hope to be wise enough to work together in a common cause for our patients

if we cannot have perfect faith then let us strive to act to serve the spirit we hope is present, even though we do not have perfect knowledge

if we cannot learn enough to be a teacher than let us continue the journey as students

And share the stories

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