Hospice: The other midwifery

Trying to say this is going to be like pushing revelation through a tube of toothpaste, but i have to try. Today i was sitting in a home with a dozing elderly patient, her daughter, and her sitter. There came a moment when i recognised the need for a shift of awareness on the parts of the daughter and the sitter. In our culture we learn a lot about fighting death off—not so much about signs of its inexorable approach. People see that someone’s not eating, or they’re sleeping a lot, or else they’re starting to decline more precipitously, and the tendency is to want to “treat” that, sometimes even with trips to the hospital, etc. For my part today, it took some courage to sensitively introduce the reality that these are all very normal changes as a person heads for the back door. How well would it be received?

I told these ladies that, though it was no indication of how much time was left, what we were seeing was all part of what happens as people begin to leave this world. Eating less, sleeping more—people often begin to give up their grounding to this earth for quite some time before they leave for good. I was amazed at the utter lack of resistance that came back. Tears sprang from the women’s eyes, but they smiled. I was only saying what a deeper part of them already knew.

There are times when i’m saying something and my entire body tingles, as if divine beings were present saying, YES, YES, YES. It always happens when i’m acknowledging the phenomenal power of love or the beautiful truth of spiritual reality—too beautiful to be taken seriously in much of the denser world, where i suppose the darkness that we experience obscures (hmm, literally) our sight. The shimmering in my body assures me that it doesn’t matter who may ask for proof; truth is on tap. It happened today as i talked about this process of leaving life. I am still constantly amazed at getting to engage with people this deeply in my work, emotionally and spiritually.

We all get our honeys back on the other side, that much seems obvious—not just by revelation but by repetition of experience. Time and time again, people seem to encounter loved ones who have already crossed over. (A 94-year-old woman suddenly sits up in bed and smiles, crying, “Daddy! What are you doing here?”) Today, with the door to such matters suddenly open, my patient’s daughter began to talk about how this beautiful little Cajun woman had, after all, mentioned that she was “going somewhere”—and, moreover, “by myself.”

An ordinary visit turned quietly extraordinary for me—from symptom management and education to gently ushering a family along the deeper journey at hand. I’ve always thought of hospice as “the other midwifery.” I cannot express how gratifying it is to mature into this unique role. It calls upon all of my best gifts, all of the time. My tasks here are not merely mechanical or rote—it’s a relationship gig.

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