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Nurturing through hospice…..

It’s the #1000Speak topic of nurturing. Well I am a bit of a paranoid nerd so let me make sure I understand the definition first. So I did what any red blooded human would do and googled nurture and this is what came up –

nur·ture
ˈnərCHər/
verb
verb: nurture; 3rd person present: nurtures; past tense: nurtured; past participle: nurtured; gerund or present participle: nurturing
  1. 1.
    care for and encourage the growth or development of.

Well I was prepared for the care portion of the definition but encourage the growth or development of was more of a stumbling point for me. I know how to care for myself and others but encouraging growth or development takes it to a whole other level and frankly it is not something I learned in my family of origin. Growing up we were always in survival mode….just getting by to pay the rent and have the necessities there was not a lot of emphasis on personal growth. This is something I had to discover outside of my first little tribe.

What is interesting to me is that the actions required to nurture a person are so individual. For instance, my son can be nurtured with a gigantic bowl of pasta while my daughter will prefer an in depth conversation regarding recess who played 4-square, who didn’t, why they didn’t, do they like me…..and round and round we go. My husband, my children, my mother, my brother, my friends we all have different needs so the manner in which I nurture them varies by person and circumstance.

One thing that has been tricky about motherhood is finding ways to nurture myself. The obvious ones – eat right, get enough sleep, exercise, take time for yourself, shower regularly…..seem like monumental tasks when you are raising tiny humans. The early years are rough and that time just gets stretched more with each additional child. I made it through babyhood, preschool and the early elementary years and most nights if I can’t sleep it’s due to my own diabolical hormones and not night terrors. So my self nurturing takes me to the gym, out to lunch and helping others.

Yes for me nurturing others (outside the family) also nurtures my soul. It is natural to care for close family and friends but stepping outside that circle is also rewarding. For the past 8 years I have been a hospice volunteer. When I tell people that they either cringe or smile, few people are lukewarm about hospice. The ones that cringe tend to have a fear of death for themselves or someone close to them. The people that smile have usually been an eyewitness to hospice work, it is beautiful.

For those that aren’t familiar hospice is an approach to terminal care. It is the point where the patient decides that they want a different course of treatment. Instead of curative care they seek more palliative care basically comfort measures. My role in this varies by situation. I volunteer to provide respite for the caregiver. I stay with the dying person so their primary caregiver can take a few hours to do whatever they need to do. I’ve had dozens of patients in the past 8 years and while they share some similarities each one of them needed to be cared for in a unique manner. Sometimes I will read to the patient other times we will discuss current events or swap travel stories. Sometimes I make meals or tidy up the house it really depends on what is needed.

It’s an odd niche to get into and people always ask “why”? Of course I had personal introduction….I don’t think many people read a textbook and think….hmmm….I want to give that hospice thing a whirl. No most people that work or volunteer for hospice have a personal story. For me it was my aunt who was a chaplain and died from metastatic breast cancer at the age of 59. Her faith and ability to face death with a practical and loving heart gave me my first adult glimpse at the dying process. I was 29 when she died and was on the corporate fast track. It took another 10 years and many major life events to get me on the path to being a hospice volunteer. The seed was planted though and I am fortunate that I have been able to devote some time to something so important.

So what is the allure of hospice? To me I find it similar to when a new baby comes home. There is usually a lot of activity and well meaning visits, some family tension but mostly people tend to get their priorities in order. Suddenly the size of Kim Kardashian’s back side becomes unimportant and people can focus on what really matters in life – love, kindness, forgiveness, letting go, faith and hope. Now this isn’t a universal process but the end result is pretty consistent.

Perhaps that is another pull toward hospice. Maybe I just want to learn more about this universal truth that we all must face one day regardless of race, religion or whatever color socks you happen to be wearing…..we are all going to die. I find it interesting that while this is something we all know on an intellectual basis not many are willing to look it squarely in the eye. My hospice work is my way to acknowledge death and perhaps make some friends that can guide me when I get to the other side. And the stories……the stories they tell me are great and I am privileged to listen to them.

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