Hospice, How Can You Not?


by Carol Lynn Vrana, Upstate Director, Lutheran Hospice and BeWell Home Services 

As we all do many times, I often get asked by new acquaintances what I do for a living. “I’m a Hospice/Homecare Director,” I proudly say and never, ever does it fail that they shrink back just a little and say “Oh, how do you do that? It’s a great thing, but how can you do that?” My response, too, is always the same, “Oh, but how could I not?”

The word “hospice” is sometimes scary itself and brings unpleasant connotations to mind of death and dying, which I realize is very difficult for us all, don’t get me wrong. But hospice can also be a blessing, especially to those that have lived a long life and know that they have limited time. They are given the freedom and support to live the end of this life on their own terms. Many are blessed to know ahead of time, so they can savor moments, make amends, spend time with family, be comfortable, sing, laugh, share stories and prepare for their next journey.

I have a Social Worker, Catherine, who compares hospice end-of-life care to childbirth. I know it sounds strange, but when you think about it, it really is very similar.

During pregnancy, an expectant mother surrounds herself with a team of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals that follow her, educate her, advise her on what to expect and are there with her every step of the way. An expectant mother seeks support from family members, advice from other mothers and utilizes community resources to make the most of her experience.

The hospice experience at the end of life also provides a “team” of care professionals, including nurses, social workers, chaplains, hospice aides, volunteers, medical doctors, etc. This hospice team provides education to the individual and family on what to expect, gives emotional as well as physical support, provides comfort measures, refers families to community resources and gives reassurance when it is needed most.

Family members and friends often surround their loved ones during this time, just as they do at birth. Then depending on your beliefs and wishes, spiritual support and guidance is given and many believe that the end of this life leads to the next journey – to a safe, secure, inviting place.

Just as a birth mother chooses how she will give birth, what conditions, what makes her comfortable, how she wants her newborn to enter this world; end of life care gives this control to the individual and their loved ones as well. A Hospice care team provides a sense of well-being and security that a person can do what makes them happy, comfortable and secure as they pass through this life.

People have told me “We put mom in hospice care because we want what remains of her life here on earth to be a happy time, to remain under her control, to be where she calls home, surround her with the things that she loves and most importantly, surround her with those she loves.” That is what hospice ultimately is all about, being able to provide this sense of peace, reassurance and support at the end of life.

So when people ask me “Oh, how can you work in hospice?” I cannot help but smile to myself. It is a blessing for me and many others that work in hospice to be there providing quality to life, supporting family members, making patients last days the best that they can be. It is a privilege and a calling to work in hospice, to make this happen for other human beings, touching those last moments on this Earth. Oh, but how could we not.