Celebrating Friendship, Love and Life
Posted by Linda Clark
If you knew today would be the last day of your life, how would you live it?
Many might imagine themselves emptying their bank accounts, splurging on an over-the-top dinner and night of frivolity in a last grasp at indulgence. Others possibly envision doing something taboo because they wouldn’t be around to suffer the consequences. Many see themselves scrambling to check off items on their “bucket lists.”
I think these are fantasies. Daydreams. In fact, I believe most of us actually would spend our final 24 hours with just a little bit more of what we already have. A little more love. A little more time spent with friends. A little more family. I don’t think we would change much. We probably would call everyone we cared about and tell them, “I love you.”
Hospice care offers us this closure.
It provides choices and preserves dignity for patients and those they hold close. Hospice emphasizes sharing love, but it also opens the door for expressing the full spectrum of human emotions. Patients should have validation for anger or joy. Hospice empowers them and imparts the ability to have a say-so over their last moments. It’s very important to live whatever part of life you have left in the best way it can possibly be lived.
Patients still have the ability to make choices about care. Plus, they can do it in the company of family and friends in an intimate, warm environment absent of tubes, devices and machines. How serene is a constant beep-beep-beep while holding someone’s hand or whispering those things you’ve always wanted to say?
Hospice care affects everyone involved. Volunteering has changed me. I’m a better person than I was. I don’t make judgments about people the way I would have years ago. You can’t make judgments based on your own life experiences.
I’ve learned from the kindness and patience of how our nurses and CNAs deal with patients. I’ve asked nurses how they deal with the emotional impact from this special type of care when they go home. One told me she goes home and holds her children a little longer.
When I was fairly new to JourneyCare, I met a young man who was nearing the end of his life. I knew he had been a pediatric patient for some time prior but little else. I spent time over a few days with him when his mother could not.
Shortly after he died, Chaplain Joel Bregman led a memorial at the Pepper Family Hospice CareCenter. So many people spoke of the young man’s life. Joel played music he loved and a slide montage of his life was shown.
In that bittersweet experience I had a moment of wonderful clarity: he was not a young man I spent time with. Instead, I realized I was invited into a very short time at the end of a whole life. A life filled with joy, hope, happiness and great love.
Now, thanks to the indelible imprint of that experience, I am acutely aware of being invited into a very important place and time whenever I step across the threshold into a patient's room.
It’s a privilege to be invited into someone’s circle of friends and family. Often, I become friends with patients in their final days. One patient who particularly impacted me said, “We are friends.” It doesn’t matter when and where you find a friend. You’ve found a friend.
I think that is hospice’s and JourneyCare’s biggest value: We celebrate friendship.
Now, think again. How would you want to spend your last day?
Please note: Next month, Barrington-based volunteer Linda Clark will be featured in the Windows Within Project, an online publication highlighting hospice volunteer experiences and their service work throughout the country. The March article will highlight Linda’s experience serving JourneyCare.