It was Hospice Awareness week recently. I saw some great clips online about what you would do if you were faced with months to live. Big questions none of us really want to face, yet many have to.
I remember as a student nurse we had a 6 week elective in our last year of training. There were all sorts of options – medical, surgical, theatre, paediatric, mental health, etc… and hospice. I chose the hospice in what was then The Mater – now Mercy Hospital – in Epsom.
It was a life changing experience and one I can recall instantly as I write this, even though it was now some 30 years ago. I can’t believe I just wrote 30, but there you go. I had already sat with someone in their last hours in a medical ward, seeing death unfold and the grief it brings with it for the family. I’d also seen others struggle with life limiting diagnoses delivered their way and the myriad of questions that come next.
I wanted to see palliative care ‘done well’ by people passionate about it. And not just in the ‘end days’ – in the life you were leading right now, making it a great life to live! In essence I wanted to understand a good death, and a good life running up to that point. I had seen births that were both well managed and not so well managed and knew the pieces of the jigsaw that usually put a good picture together. I wanted to see how that worked at the other end of the life span – the best practice if you like of exiting this life in a dignified manner without pain and with good support, both for the person dying and their family. Hospice certainly delivered that – be it ‘in-house’ or in the community. My memories of my time there were of a lovely, peaceful place, with respectful staff who loved and laughed with their charges. Yes, there were obviously sad and sombre times, but a lot of joy and positivity too. I distinctly remember a feeling of interactions being ‘right’ for whatever the moment was, and being buoyed by that. There were no secrets as such – no scooting round the fact there was no magic cure – it was about making sure everything was operating at the optimal level – be it practicalities, medical needs, or dealing with ‘the top four inches’ and all the things in one’s head that needed to be talked about. The people I saw who worked there were adept at all those things.
I’m on a mission to tidy up the house currently – 18 years in one spot with a large basement area tucked away to ‘store’ thing in, over the years. I am going through (with the kids) what to keep as memories and boxing it up till they want to have a trip down memory lane, and what to move on to find a new use in a new home. That is actually another story all in itself! I’ll send the ‘don’t need any more’ items to the local hospice shop, as a small way to help them fund their good works, because good work is indeed what they do. There’s 35 of them about…go check them out. http://www.hospice.org.nz/