Working in Hospice

By Rev Paul V. Scholl, C-GC, CHLC

Few hospice professionals of today ever said “Daddy, I want to be a hospice worker when I grow up.” We wanted to be doctors, teachers, firemen, policemen, dancers, baseball players, etc. As hospice grows, and the general public learns more about what hospice provides, perhaps those young teenagers or children will be influenced by what they see and experience and may someday want to follow in the footsteps of a caring hospice nurse or case manager.

No one has ever said offering hospice care as a professional would be easy. Yet, with the growing need for hospice care in our aging society, it continues to attract professionals who want to serve others in their most difficult times. Working in hospice becomes a career choice, one that could be easily side-stepped for fear of not wanting to face the obvious issues that come with helping people through the end days of their lives. If you wanted to avoid some of the deeper issues of life, you would not choose this line of care.

One of the unwritten rules of serving the dying is knowing “It’s not about you.” The professional must check their personal agendas at the door before ever entering into the sacred ground surrounding the next patient and family. What is paramount is the proper care and handling of the raw emotional experiences of the family unit. Each individual has his or her very own sensitivities and reactions to every step of the path that leads the patient to the moment of death. Honoring each step of each individual within the family, while holding a firm understanding of your own reactions to each case, is what makes you the right caring professional sent to help guide them.

Grieving for the patient begins with the first words out of the doctor’s mouth, the words that hit the patient harder than they’ve ever been hit before in their lives, that they have a terminal illness. The car ride home is a blur, the care plan is a blur, and every anxiety is another wave of emotion battering what strength they have left. By the time hospice arrives, a thousand waves have covered them and their families. The strength of the hospice team offers them the hope, care and guidance they need.

Working in the hospice care field has to come from the heart, and be managed with a clear focus and understanding of one’s personal belief system. It has been said that caring for others at the end of their lives will challenge you to know who you are, what you believe in, and to actively be an emissary for love and compassion. It is through this quiet, caring and stoic example of love and compassion that those facing the end of life will find some peace and calm and reconciliation on their path through death.

How we grieve with the patient and family, how we listen and support them, how we guide and comfort them is a reflection they will see for years to come. They may forget the names, but they will never forget the care. Being an example of strength and support, and of being fully human, will be the greatest gift you could leave behind for those you’ve served, or those who may follow.

Rev. Paul offers workshops on many subjects, including spiritual boundaries, death and dying, meditation, and spiritual goal-setting. Find out more at his website, or call him at 916-773-7337.