It doesn’t matter where I go or what I am doing. It doesn’t matter that I say to myself “I am not going to talk about work at this XXXXXXX”, you fill in where the Xs are. At some point someone will ask me what I do and even if I just answer that I am a nurse, that will never be enough. They will ask me what kind of nurse and when I say I work in hospice, they WANT to talk about it. I can feel my husband’s eyes on me because he knows what is about to happen and thank goodness, he does understand. I don’t think he did always but he does now. It starts slowly until there is quite a large group around me all sharing and asking me to explain what really happened and asking me so much more than their questions reveal. And, well, I am a hospice nurse, once I start talking about it, I cannot find a way to close my heart ( you thought I was going to write ‘close my mouth’ didn’t you.)
My husband didn’t really get it for a long time, he just tolerated it, like so many things that give me life, he knows I have passion and he loves seeing it burn in me. But in the last few years, we have reached that age where those we know and love have begun to grow old, the become weak or sick. We have seen people close to us decline and finally die and we have had to make difficult decisions and deal with family members as they struggle. Between us the years 2010 to 2018 have seen 5 hospice patients who passed and 5 other loved ones and friends who passed quite quickly with no warning and no preparation, except of course the fact that they were human and destined to die some day. After holding so many hands and sitting at so many bedsides and watching so many ways in which members of the very same family deal differently with loss and death, he gets why everyone ends up in a circle around me. The real eye opener for him was when he watched me coach and support his family through the decline and death of his grandmother, a feisty, independent and complicated cocktail drinking poker player of 97 years! It was for me the greatest gift I could give to her and to him at the same time.
I love to talk about life and death and hospice in these seemingly inappropriate places because I believe there should be no inappropriate places. I believe that the idea that there are some inappropriate places is how we have reached a time when we aren’t prepared emotionally for people in our lives to die as they age and grow weak. But that is not what I love about it. I love it because pretty quickly it becomes a fairly open and totally UN-morose conversation. I mean, people are usually laughing a bit. Because talking about death means you have to talk about honoring and loving and respecting life. And you have to realize that not accepting that death is inevitable is ridiculous.
And I also love to just totally destroy someone’s crazy, stupid, uninformed ridiculous idea about how or why their grandma died on hospice, like, ” They gave my grandma too much morphine on hospice and she died”. Really? So what you’re saying is that she would have lived forever if they had not given her any morphine? Um, NOOOOOOOOOOO. Your grandma was dying. Period. Punto. Ya! Morphine just made her comfortable and then she went when she was ready. I’m sorry your hospice team did such a poor job of educating you or that you weren’t involved enough with your grandma to learn the how and why of what the hospice team was doing for her. (sorry, my angry is leaking out). HOSPICE TEAMS DON’T GIVE MORPHINE UNTIL IT KILLS SOMEONE. HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY THAT? I THINK I’LL BUY A PLANE AND FLY IT OVER THE NATION.
And I love validating those people who tell me their hospice stories and I love to praise them for not being afraid to take their loved one home and care for them and be the last caring voice they hear and face they see. I love saying “Your grandma (even if she had terrible cancer or heart failure or some other awful diagnosis) was so lucky to have you there to let her be in her own space with her own things surrounded by her own people as she passed.
Because the alternative is (too often) being in the hospital, alone in your room, with silence, in an ill-fitting open back gown, on a bed that doesn’t quite fit you, listening to your own heart beat get slower and slower on the monitor, wanting someone to be there beside you but being too weak to press your call button or call the nurse whose name you can’t remember.
And I love to tell the stories of the little old ladies who get to pass with their tiny little dogs on their laps. Of the grandpa who, because he is on hospice, gets to go out to the duck blind with the grandsons two days before his last breath. Of the old veteran on his hospital bed in his livingroom who gets to pin the 1LT bars on his grandson because we got him out of the ICU and home with oxygen before he passed.
I am the hit of the nail salon, or the cocktail party or the cook out. You better believe it.