I am a hospice social worker. I have learned so much in my job about courage, resilience, denial, love. I have held the hands of patients as they have died, sat at the bedside of a dying patient while family members talk animatedly about their loved one's life. Once, I witnessed a family at the bedside at the moment the patient was dying. They asked me if he could hear them. When I said that he could, they all touched him, crying and saying, "I love you, Daddy. I love you. I will see you soon." The patient died at that moment, with those words in his ears. Then, there was the elderly woman who shared with me precious childhood memories of her family sitting on the front porch singing hymns. Her daughters were present and had never heard these stories before. I had a 103 year old patient who quoted Shakespeare sonnets to me and told me about going to speak easies in Chicago during prohibition. There was the young mother whose sister recorded messages of the patient saying "I love you" to her two young children and placed the recordings in stuffed bears for the children to have forever.
There are not so pretty times, too, when for one reason or another, someone is left to die alone. At those times, hospice work is particularly critical. The sacred task of honoring their lives, marking their existence and their passing, falls to us.
For those whose bodies have outlasted their cognitive and communicative abilities, we are challenged to find ways to reach out. Sometimes, it is a song, a touch, a voice. Most times, it is simply a caring presence. Silence can be a powerful medicine. It is difficult at times to know what is helping, getting through. We spend a lot of time in hope.
Most importantly, I see my job as a keeper of stories. The many stories of the many patients and families that have trusted me with the most private and sacred moments of their lives. It is sometimes an overwhelming responsibility, but one that I cherish and honor.
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