My Hospice Holiday Wishes

In the final days of this month, and during this season of so many holidays for many religions and cultures, I wanted to use my “magic wand” to give an ideal gift to others.

Oh, how I wish I could wield a wand so powerful . . .

Below are the honest words and hopeful actions that I would offer for those involved with hospice.

And we are all part of hospice. About 2,600,000 people annually die in the United States. Using statistics only on those served by Medicare in 2015, there were over 1,300,000 people enrolled in hospice care. While those simplistic and rounded-off “facts” represent different sources, I’m confident that about half of the annual deaths in the United States involve hospice. The odds are extraordinarily high that everyone, at some point in their life, will either be helped by hospice or have a friend or family member in hospice care.

Some of my wishes are simple. Some are overly optimistic. Some are more practical and obvious than wearing warm clothes on a cold day.

I limited myself to 3 wishes for each “person.”

Please, tell me what your wish might be! (I’d love to hear from you.)

Even more important, when thinking about your “wishes” for life and death, for living and dying, for you and your loved ones, for today and whatever tomorrow might bring . . . tell your wishes to the people most important to you.

Here’s a wish or three . . .

For Patients

  • Time enough to spend with those you love the most.
  • Being able to share your real needs, fears and hopes.
  • To have help reducing or eliminating your physical pain. But also, the emotional and spiritual pain when we are facing the end of life. Those can be equally or more excruciating. A truthful conversation can sometimes be better than the best medication.

For Families

  • Openly, honestly communicating early and often about feelings and decisions.
  • Healing old anger, regrets, guilt, miscommunication, or distrust.
  • Remembering what is most important: time. I hope you get home in time for a dying parent. I hope you spend more time at your home than in emergency rooms. I hope you can take time from work for a dying beloved. Misspent time brings more lasting anguish than misspent money.

For Caregivers

  • Having others that you trust (paid or volunteer) help you with caregiving
  • Being able to get away from your life-supporting and exhausting responsibilities for rest or a different activity.
  • Getting chances, especially if your loved one can still communicate, to be a spouse or a sibling or a child or a lover . . . and not only “the caregiver.”

For Grievers

  • Spending the right time for you to “work” on your Some do well in groups, or in individual counseling, or sharing informally with supportive friends, or reading helpful books, or writing (and other creative outlets), or joining meaningful online groups. There are many options for support. Choosing to “ignore” your grief is a lousy choice.
  • Misplacing your keys, never finishing to-do lists, always being tired, never crying, forever crying, and a thousand other unsettling things don’t mean you are “going crazy.” You are grieving. With the death of a beloved, all of the rest of your life will be spent healing. You will get better. You will get better. You will get better.
  • Reclaiming laughter.

For Hospice staff

  • Having enough patients and families in a typical week (or month) that let you know how grateful they are for your work.
  • Administrators prioritizing compassion over the bottom line. Empathetic and proactive supervisors. Co-workers who are authentically collegial.
  • Having healthy ways to renew and refresh yourself after a demanding day of helping patients and families during some of the most stressful times of their lives.

For You . . . for Everyone

  • Long before you have to, get the forms, have the conversations with loved ones, and complete the “advanced directives.”
  • Along with what’s officially on a form, talk to loved ones about what you really want as you face dying and death. Don’t keep people in the dark. Don’t pretend others can read your mind. Don’t keep secrets. Don’t protect others’ feelings. Your real, honest needs matter.
  • Ira Byock was 100% correct in his book, The Four Things that Matter Most: “Four simple phrases: ‘Please forgive me,’ ‘I forgive you,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I love you’ — carry enormous power to mend and nurture our relationships and inner lives. These four phrases and the sentiments they convey can help us resolve interpersonal difficulties with integrity and grace.” Those four matter EVERY They matter when you are young and think you’re immortal. They matter on the day of your final breath.

I am always aware, as I write my Hospice Matters’ essays during any season of the year, that someone reading—who may be dying, who may have a beloved who is dying—is possibly having the worst day (or month or year or decade) of their life. But still, I would take this moment and wish you Happy Holidays.

This I know about the best gifts in my life . . . they have never been “things.” The best gifts are time with loved ones, honesty, listening, hiking a mountain trail, sharing, laughing, and playing with my dog.

What are your wishes?

Or, as writer Mary Oliver asks in the familiar and forever challenging end to her poem “The Summer Day” . . . Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

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