10 Lessons from Hospice

End of life and bereavement work is not something that gets a lot of focus. So often those who work in hospice and palliative care are wondered at. I frequently get asked why do I continue to volunteer for hospice and work with clients at end of life. Well, as hard and real as it might be working with death and dying is filled with joy, beauty, and life. Here is a list of some of the best little tidbits of wisdom uncovered in my recent hospice volunteer training. 



Focus on the Beauty

Often hospice work is filled with unpleasant sights, smells, and thoughts, but if you walk into each situation looking for the beauty you will be able to do what you need to do. Notice the person before you; their eyes, their smile, the flowers at the bedside. Pay attention to the beauty and it will grow.


Follow the Undercurrent

Instead of getting caught up in the details of the situation, try to see if you can hear what the emotional message is. For example, some one might say "my daughter is always complaining that I watch too much television". What are the unspoken messages of that comment? That is what we should respond to; the undercurrent of each communication. 


All Grief is Unique

Everyone grieves differently. There is no perfect pattern for healing. It looks different, feels different, sticks different, is DIFFERENT. So, all we can do is just observe and support people in their unique process.

Also, bereavement comes from a latin word that means "to be robbed". (just a neat fact)


Being Still is an Art

Seriously. Try to say nothing and be still. It isn't easy, but leaving space for the other person will be the greatest reward.


Validate Yourself

Never expect a thank you. Find the gratitude for your service in the service itself.


All Pain is Non-Physical

I could write a whole blog post about this one. Hospice and palliative care has a goal to lessen suffering, but it is not an easily obtained because suffering is a complex experience. The pain felt from a broken leg is not the injury, rather it is the perception of the injury in the brain. So pain, like grief, is a unique internal response to an outside stimulus. Once again, everyone's pain is different.


We Teach People How to Treat Us

Everyone who spoke to us in the training mentioned "good boundaries". It is important to be able to know where you stand, why you are there, and what the limits are of your service. We will treat people how to treat us by the way we treat ourselves. 


Ask your Self Hard Questions

 What would be the hardest things for me to have to give up in my life? How might I handle having to die? Who would I want to be my power of attorney? What is a risk I need to take, right now? By asking myself hard questions...all the hard questions I can think of...I am growing empathy, and understanding for others and myself.



Don't stop someone else's tears by saying "it will be okay" or giving a pat on the shoulder. See if you can lovingly hold a space in your heart for the other person while you witness tears. Tears comfort us by releasing chemicals and hormones. They are a necessary part of healing and sometimes the best thing to do is cry.


The Only Way Out is the Door

This was presented as a quote from Hellen Keller. It seems to sum up a lot of what goes on at end of life, and in all life transitions. Walking through that door can be terrifying, painful, lonely ...but at some point we simply can no longer stay where we are and we have to move on to what ever comes next.