Through the Stained Glass: Lessons in Life and Purpose from Hospice Care

The first thing that came out of my mouth every Friday at 3 pm was, “Hey “Joseph”, what are you working on today?” Little did I know that behind that bathroom door lay a world of colorful glass and profound wisdom, waiting to shape my understanding of life and purpose.
“Joseph”, a 93-year-old man I met through my hospice volunteering, had a passion for stained glass work. Whenever I visited him, he would be in his bathroom, diligently putting together beautiful pieces of art. “Joseph” and I developed a unique bond over our shared appreciation for creativity. While he worked, I admired the stained glass pieces he put up all throughout his home. Despite the challenges of his age and declining health, his enthusiasm for creating something beautiful never wavered. Our conversations during these visits were not just about his artwork; they delved into life, travel, our faith, and the importance of pursuing passions regardless of circumstances. Visiting him was the highlight of my week, as we would chat and laugh at his jokes while admiring the colorful mosaic of memories we both shared.
This relationship with “Joseph” was not only personally enriching but also highlighted the value of programs like hospice care. During our final visit before he passed, we shared a moment of silence amidst our conversation, eventually both drifting into a peaceful nap. While his daughter chuckled at this unexpected interaction, I couldn’t help but treasure how our last moments together, filled with conversation and quiet companionship, brought a sense of peace.
From my experience, opportunities like visiting those in hospice care emphasize the importance of holistic patient care, which is valuable to be reminded of during medical school. While medical training emphasizes clinical skills, the ability to connect with patients on a human level is equally vital. Hospice care conveys empathy, compassion, and an appreciation for quality of life, essential attributes for any physician. Furthermore, hospice care teaches the profound lesson of accepting and respecting the inevitability of death. Healthcare providers often hope to extend life and reduce suffering through medical intervention, driven by advancements and a desire to prolong life. However, the belief that death can be a battle and failure must always be avoided is not always the right approach. As Dr. Sunita Puri has said, “understanding death as inevitable is necessary to appreciate the meaning and beauty of life.” This mindset of death being a battle and failure can lead to emotional strain and overlook patients’ preferences. Understanding patients’ treatment desires and knowing when to support natural processes are fundamental aspects of compassionate care. By embracing the principles of hospice care, we honor not just life, but also dignity and the importance of a peaceful transition when the time comes.
Throughout my hospice experience, the imagery of stained glass, crafted by “Joseph’s” skilled hands, became a metaphor for resilience and beauty in the face of adversity. Witnessing the resilience of patients like “Joseph” has taught me invaluable lessons about the human spirit and the importance of meaningful interactions in healthcare. Similarly, understanding the lesson of impermanence has reinforced my appreciation for the present moment and the importance of cherishing human connections. My work in hospice has reaffirmed my vocation, especially with the importance of patient-centered care and inspired me to pursue a career in which I can advocate for compassionate end-of-life care. Through this program, I have learned that medicine is not solely about treating diseases but about honoring lives and fostering dignity, especially in times of transition.