A Tender Hand in the Presence of Death

From Pallium India Newsletter

Heather Meyerend is a home care hospice nurse visiting sixteen to twenty patients once a week each. She sees her work as preparing and accompanying a patient partway down the voyage he is to undertake. Like most hospice workers, she feels it is a privilege to accompany the dying and their family at their most vulnerable and helpless times.

Her visit may be the high point of the day for the patient, who may not be able to get out of bed, or for whoever is taking care of the patient, who may not have left the house or seen anybody else for a day or two; either or both of them may be going a little crazy and may badly need interruption or variety of any kind, ideally someone different to talk to. So Heather moves slowly; she sits down; she delays; she lingers. Dying can be long and bewildering, lonely and painful, frequently undignified, and consumed by pressing and unpredictable and constantly changing and multiplying needs. It’s a relief to have someone around who understands what’s going on and what may happen next. Hospice believes in caring not only for the patient but also for the family, and tries to address psychological and spiritual needs as well as physical ones, providing social workers and bereavement counsellors, music therapists and chaplains, who work together as a team and consult one another frequently. Nonetheless, patients tend to resist hospice, because it sounds like a death sentence, and it is: entering hospice means giving up on curative treatments, and you qualify only if your doctor believes that you have less than six months to live. enever Heather entered a patient’s home for the first time, she knew that she was walking into a long, long, complicated story that she understood nothing about, a story that was just then reaching its final crisis. She was extra alert on those first visits, extra careful, trying to figure out what was going on—the conflicts and rivalries between members of the family, tension over who wasn’t doing enough, who was doing too much, unresolved bitterness, and nearly always grief and anxiety and fretting about how to take care of the patient and what to do.

Read the full article here.