By Charmaine Harris, RN, BSN, CCM, Hospice of the Upstate
Throughout many years of nursing, I have had the privilege of caring for hospice patients. I have never felt fear using the word “hospice”. Understanding the benefits of hospice care is what allowed me many opportunities to alleviate fears and misconceptions many have. Some people feel that by using hospice services they are giving up, throwing in the towel, losing hope…. which is so far from the truth!
It was in May 2021 that I was faced with a loved one receiving that dreaded news: “it’s time for hospice”. I was thrust to the other side of the bed as a caregiver of a loved one. You may think that because I am a hospice nurse this would be an easy and rewarding task. Rewarding yes, but certainly not easy. Being on the other side of the bedside, caring for a loved one was a totally different experience from being the nurse.
The caregiver experience changed me. It has encouraged me to be a better hospice nurse. I now see each encounter from the caregiver perspective and adjust my nursing support accordingly. I learned what was most important to the patient and family during the end-of-life transition.
My focus has shifted in certain ways. Teaching how to administer medication and how to provide care for a bed-bound patient is important. But I learned the importance of the ministry of presence; sitting at the bedside holding a hand in silence. Actively listening to the patient and family about all things- medical and non-medical.
A great deal of reflection takes place during a time of silence. All the memories of past events bubble to the service. Life review is healing for family and friends; allowing anticipatory grief to flow freely. Allowing the patient to express fears or emotions is vital. Remaining comfortable through laughter and tears provides an emotional release for everyone involved.
There are many emotions to process during caring for a loved one. The support from hospice is invaluable. An excellent hospice team is present to fully support patients, caregivers, family and friends throughout the last season of a person’s life. While my loved one took his last breath, we cried and deeply felt the loss. We found great comfort in knowing he was able to die at home as he wished. The sense of togetherness was also a great support.
I hope and pray this experience as a caregiver continues to motivate me to be the best hospice nurse I can be, and encourages my colleagues as we collectively strive to provide excellent care! My hospice nurse experience, combined with my recent caregiver experience, has reinforced the call I feel God has placed on my life. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to support patients and families as they journey toward eternity.
For more information, please visit Hospice of the Upstate.