I've had a lot of touching experiences at my in-patient hospice job in the last week or so--laughing with a patient and her friends who I interrupted during "girl talk" (they worried that they'd shocked me), admiring a man's dogs with him and his partner, listening to a daughter talk about her dying dad as her best friend, listening to several children describe the family reunions of their large and close family of which their mom was the matriarch, talking to a family member about embracing the goodness of life even in the dark times.
Lambeth thinks I'm morbid for thinking about the end of my life so much, but I think perhaps it's a way of understanding death, and therefore life, in some small way. And I don't want to leave my family or myself less prepared than they could be (though of course, you're hardly ever really prepared and it's hard regardless.)
Some things I see as a chaplain:
- chaplains and various staff notice if there are no flowers or photos by the bedside--those things, as much as visitors, indicates support and love of the patient. So, bring on the flowers and photos, blankets and stuffed animals, cards and signs. One of my patients has a digital photo frame which holds many photos of her loved ones;
- a tip from a social-worker friend of mine: even if a patient can't eat or drink, sometimes they can still taste--swab their mouths with a favorite drink or flavor. I don't know what mine would be; I can think of several (chai, chocolate, vanilla pound cake);
- to continue the tour of the senses, I must mention hearing, which is supposedly the last to go. Favorite music on a player, favorite movie on the tv, someone reading a favorite book--these all bring smiles. I routinely sing to hospice patients and they love it (and think I have a pretty voice, which is kind);
I wrote the above after my visit last week; my hospice patient is still hanging on and so I will see her tomorrow. I didn't finishe it because I was focused on my CPE application, which I submitted today. If all goes well--and I don't know how long it will take for me to hear--I should start in February.
A friend of mine is having a double masectomy today to fight an aggressive breast cancer. I've been thinking of her and all of the people struggling this holiday season. There were a lot of family and friends at hospice this morning, visiting patients. But one of the patients whose daughter I'd talked to several times had died. And I think of my uncle and his widow. And the woman in town struggling with advanced cancer. And the family I took a meal to as part of my church lay ministry.
And so I've been saving tonglen meditation. Tonglen is a Tibetan practice with three parts where you open your heart, breathe in grief etc./breathe out love etc., and then breathe for a specific person or incident.
I breathe in darkness; I breathe out light.I breathe in suffocating, dank heat; I breathe out a refreshing breeze.I breathe in fetid, foul air; I breathe out freshness, the scent of the spring.I breathe in fear; I breathe out strength.I breathe in grief; I breathe out comfort.I breathe in despair; I breathe out hope.I breathe in hospitals; I breathe out home.I breathe in crisis ; I breathe out peace.