For National Professional Social Work Month, JourneyCare Social Worker Rachel Risler explains how hospice social workers provide compassionate care and support to patients with dementia and their loved ones.
I've been working as a social worker with the elderly population since 2004, the last five years at JourneyCare. I became a social worker specifically to work with patients and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Since making the move from long-term care to hospice care, I have been honored to share the journey of end-stage dementia with patients and families.
I started as an art therapy intern with JourneyCare in July. I initially felt nervous to begin working in hospice. In school, we were taught treatment planning over the course of months ̶ but with end-of life-care, it was potentially an expedited timeline. I knew that with some patients, I might only get to see them one time. I questioned how much of an impact I could possibly make having only one session with someone. I worried about the power such limited time could have.
JourneyCare's Soup & Stories initiative began five years ago when JourneyCare Juniors and adult volunteers from Barrington delivered containers of homemade soup, fleece blankets and conversation cards to the homes of JourneyCare patients on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Whenever Dr. Martin Luther King's Day of Service takes place, I am reminded of all the ways I can serve the community and make the world a better place. As a JourneyCare Youth Advisory Board Volunteer, one activity I love to participate in during this holiday is the Soup and Stories deliveries. If this initiative has taught me one lesson, it’s that a little can go a long way. Just a small package filled with soup, a blanket, and a card can brighten someone’s day and bring love, comfort and joy to a home.
Drawing on their musical and clinical palliative care training, music-thanatologists use harp and voice to address physical, emotional and spiritual suffering at the end of life. Using music prescriptively, they vary the tempo and tone of music to respond to changes occurring in a patient's body, like a slowing of pulse and breathing, in the final hours of life. During their visits — music vigils — they alternate sound and silence to help patients and loved ones relax and rest.
In my work as a music-thanatologist, there are certain vigils that stand out in such a way that leave me feeling especially grateful for what we are able to offer patients and families at this most critical and sacred time of their lives. At these times, I feel that I am at the right place at the right time and I am grateful for the deep connections made. The following narrative is from one of those vigils:
There are many family members present when I arrive at Jason’s home: his wife, Kim, two daughters Lucy and Naomi, his son-in-law and a baby. The kitchen is abuzz with conversation and planning. The sound of a television is coming from Jason’s room.
When it is time for me to enter the small, dimly lit room, Jason’s JourneyCare nurse is measuring his heart rate and oxygen levels, which are regular. Jason is lying on his back, supported with pillows and slightly turned toward his left side. His brow is smooth, his eyes are closed. He does not rouse to speech or touch. By now, only Kim and their two daughters remain in the room.
For massage therapists who care for hospice patients, the work we do is full of ongoing lessons and gifts. I’m continually reminded what a privilege it is to meet and participate in some small way in the lives of our patients — such diverse, interesting, wonderful, ordinary and extraordinary people. There is a bond that develops with physical touch through the understanding that as their massage therapist, I am there to make them feel better. They guide me to the best way to help them and I am there to listen and respond.
I’ve had the honor of working with many patients with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Due to the challenges that befall these patients, massage is a service that often makes good sense. When their muscles stop working as they once did, we can help stretch and massage those muscles to make them feel better for a little while. One such patient gave me delightful gifts of imagination and laughter, and lessons about an unfailing positive attitude and outlook that I will never forget.
Since joining JourneyCare as a hospice volunteer this past year, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a care companion for two patients so far and I am thoroughly enjoying my role. So, when I saw a request for an “elf” to accompany Santa to bring an early Christmas to a pediatric hospice patient this October, I immediately wanted to help.
Cielo was 17 years old suffering from a glioblastoma with her condition advancing, so she wished for an early Christmas. I was honored to be selected as a helper elf to accompany Santa and bring some Christmas joy to Cielo and her family.
For National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, JourneyCare is celebrating our thoughtful and caring staff and volunteers, who provide comfort and exceed expectations to make the holiday season joyful for our patients and their families.
As a Jewish Care Ambassador for JourneyCare, I’ve often thought of patients in our care during the holiday season and have felt badly that some of them, due to their advanced illnesses, are unable to enjoy the holidays to their fullest extent. This year as December begins, patients in our Jewish Care Services program will celebrate Chanukkah beginning the evening of Sunday, December 2 continuing through Sunday, December 9. Chanukkah is called the Festival of Lights, which is considered a joyous holiday and meant to remind us of the golden menorah in the time of the Temple with the miraculous jar of oil that lasted eight days.
For National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, JourneyCare is celebrating the many innovative and creative ways our staff and volunteers help provide care, support and companionship to positively impact the lives of JourneyCare patients and their loved ones. Learn more at journeycare.org.
If you ever run into people carrying mud-covered shovels at the front entrance of The Pepper Family Hospice CareCenter in Barrington, you’re seeing JourneyCare volunteer gardeners at work. We volunteers have designed and planted the front entrance of CareCenter for the past four years. We also arrange the patio planters and undertake several other creative garden projects that welcome patients and their loved ones to JourneyCare.
We are a team that tries to make things beautiful with plants. As members of The Garden Club of Barrington, all of us bring different strengths and contributions to our work at the CareCenter. Some of us are really good at design, others are skilled at finding donations, some are very knowledgeable about plants — and we all like to dig in the dirt. We also all have experience interacting with JourneyCare patients and enjoy visiting with families who stop by when we are working. Gardening seems to be a great connection for visitors to share stories about their loved ones.
For Veterans Day and National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, JourneyCare is honoring our veteran patients and celebrating the volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to our patients, patient families and the staff throughout our agency. We are so grateful for our generous volunteers every day of the year!
It’s estimated that one out of every four dying Americans is a veteran.
This Veterans Day and National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, JourneyCare is very proud to be one of more than 2,400 hospice organizations in the United States participating in the We Honor Veterans initiative to honor and care for veterans and their families. Started by the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) at the request of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the intent of the program is to identify when a veteran is enrolled in hospice care, connect veterans and their families with any benefits for which they may be eligible, and take this final opportunity to honor and thank those who served and sacrificed so much.
In honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, we are celebrating the hospice and healthcare workers who hold the hands and hearts of our patients and their families every day. In tribute to the physical, emotional and spiritual work they do, each blog this month will bring you an up close look at how they bring compassionate care to patients and families in extraordinary ways. We hope you will be inspired by these stories which shine the spotlight on these everyday heroes.
As a music therapist for hospice and palliative care patients, I feel incredibly grateful each day that I have the privilege to do this unique work. This November I reflect on National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and realize I can honestly say that I absolutely love my job and the work that we do here at JourneyCare.
In my journey as a music therapist, I experience so many touching moments with our patients. But what makes my work especially worthwhile are the “WOW” or breathtaking moments. And sometimes, when I least expect it, a “nice” visit can become one of my best.