Death. A word typically tinged with sadness and heartache. Tears follow the remembrance of the loved one you have lost, and comforting words fail to make a change.
Yet, what if death was not a process to mourn, but instead a process of final peace and hope? A family coming together to decide the most dignified and respectful way to treat their family member in their final months of life. Perhaps death becomes less painful, focusing less on future loss but instead present happiness and quality of life. This is what hospice means for me.
I came into this program thinking that, as a physician, death is to be avoided at all costs. It seemed to be a final defeat to see your patient’s final breath while feeling that there was something more that could have been done. But, through this process and my relationships with the patients I have visited, death has become the opposite of defeat; instead, it is an avenue for several individuals to find joy in their final few months.
For some, death seems to be an escape from the pain and suffering of disease. Death allows them to avoid pain further, particularly when this pain can only be prolonged rather than completely removed from the body. For these individuals, I felt the acceptance that came with recognizing death’s inevitability, as well as the relief of some control over this process.
For others, the months before death are a time of joy, visiting with family members and rejoicing in memories of the past. War stories, memories of one’s first car, travels around the world are all among some of the experiences that have been shared with me, and I have been so fortunate to share these memories with many individuals.
On this note, perhaps it is an individual’s family who benefits the most from the hospice experience, and in turn benefits from our presence as hospice volunteers. The comfort provided by the hospice staff and volunteers allows these families to feel as though their loved ones are taken care of, even when they are not able to be present with them. This expressed gratitude has been one of the most rewarding parts of my time as a volunteer, and I hope I can continue to help other individuals as a continuing volunteer or even as a future physician.
But overall, as a volunteer I feel I gained just as much from my experience working in hospices as the patients have. I feel an immense gratitude to the individuals who have allowed me to be a part of their final months of life, in addition to my gratitude for all of the memories that they have so willingly shared. It is this sort of trust and respect I also hope to bring in my future as a physician, treating many individuals who might be hesitant to share their history with me. I am truly honored to have been given this opportunity and look forward to future lessons I shall learn while continuing to work with Ascend.