My name is Nick, and I am the new social worker for Generation Hospice. I am currently convalescing from an ear ailment, so I thought I might take some time to share some of my thoughts on hospice and why I am so passionate about it.
When I was in school, I was something of an outlier. Most of my fellow graduate students wanted to be advocates, program administrators, or therapists. I was there with one goal in mind: to become a hospice social worker. I hope that by explaining why, you might get a better understanding of hospice and why it is so essential in our modern world.
I grew up around hospice, so in some way the “hospice philosophy” was like second nature to me. My mom was a hospice nurse who eventually became the director of her agency. Most of her friends were in hospice work, and so many of the adults I had contact with were from the field. Even my wife has a hospice connection: her mother is a hospice nurse who worked with my mom and they decided to introduce us.
What is the hospice philosophy? It is nothing less than that every human being deserves peace, comfort, and dignity at the end of life. That every person should have the option to face death in the manner that they choose. It is about self-determination and respect.
In Western culture in particular, there is a fear of death that leads us to hide from it until it’s too late. Then we end up in a hospital, hooked up to machines that force us to breathe with no control over how the end of our life plays out. It is devastating for patients and families alike and leads to needless suffering that nevertheless has the same outcome.
Hospice says that death is a natural part of life, so rather than fear it we should prepare for it. When the time comes we can make the journey at home with our family present, comfortable and enjoying the remainder of our life to its fullest extent. And that is really what hospice is all about: living, not dying.
I will finish with a quick anecdote. I was at the ear specialist yesterday, and he was suctioning my ears (yes, it is as bad as it sounds). He was making small talk the way doctors do and asked what I do for a living. I told him I am a hospice social worker. His tone grew somber, and he said “wow, good for you, that must be hard.” This from a man who was sucking the most evil stuff I’ve ever seen from my ear cavity. While I appreciated his sentiment, I think it stems from a common misconception of hospice. Yes, hospice - and death - are hard. They are sad. But they can also be one of the most beautiful and rewarding journeys a person can take. Patients get to die peacefully and on their own terms, and families get to partake in the journey in a very intimate way and know that they gave their loved ones a precious gift. And the fact that I get to be a part of that in any way is an honor and a privilege, one that I am lucky enough to do for a living.