Today is Labor Day. The U.S. has been celebrating the American worker since 1882. It’s a day where we picnic, barbecue, get together with family and friends, and say goodbye to another summer. Many of us don’t get to enjoy the Labor Day festivities – especially those of us whose job is to care for people at the end of their lives. This is to honor all of you.
When we reflect on what we do for a living, what are the images that come to mind? A hand held, a long silence, tears shed. Or is it a dressing changed, a subcutaneous injection, or a nebulizer treatment? It could be a story shared, a laugh, a thank you. All of these are a big part of our daily activities, but do they accurately reflect what we really do?
I think it is much bigger than that, and goes deeper into who we are as human beings. It is difficult to articulate the emotions that go along with the things we do every day. As an educator in hospice, I don’t often see patients on a regular basis any more. But my hope is that the knowledge I share from my 32 years as a nurse will help those new to this field to in turn help their patients.
I love what I do, but that love can’t be expressed in terms of enjoyment of the specific activities that a hospice educator performs in order to meet the expectations of an employer. For me, it is more personal. My mom and my dad both died in hospice care. They both died from COPD after years of heavy smoking. I promised each of them that they would not suffer at the end, when their lungs finally said “Enough!”, and stopped working.
I delivered on that promise, and that is the single most important thing I have ever done in my life. Mom and dad both had very unique experiences, but they were both surrounded by those they loved most, in a peaceful and sacred space created by what we know as hospice care. I like to describe it as “tucking them in” – as you would a beloved child you are laying down for the night.
When I am teaching, I do it with great passion. Each phrase that I speak, every story about my experiences shared, is with one mission in mind. The face of every patient that will be cared for by someone in my class, in my mind, has the face of my mom or my dad. This is my labor of love.