I just want to title everything I write about hospice work as “Loving and Letting Go.” Already used that title before though…

A rough, after-work ramble, no grammar corrections or editing (maybe I’ll get to that later):

Hospice work for me is being present, observing, attuning, attaching, loving, and then letting go.

One of the hardest situations for me that I encounter at work happened this weekend. Giving intense care for the past 24 out of 48 hours to someone actively dying and their family – being very attuned, involved, intimate with them, witnessing the subtle changes of the body shutting down and the love and grief of the family, tending to all of them. And then after this dense, meaningful time together my last shift of the weekend is over and it’s time to go home and I won’t be back for several days – knowing this person will probably die within hours. It’s so hard to leave, right at the end, I want to stay and continue my care until completion of this person’s life that I have been so intensely and uniquely involved in. I am attached to the dying person, to their family and to my co-workers in this warm cocoon of care that the Guest House is. But I let go, I say goodbye, many hugs and wet eyes and gratitude and well-wishes. And I hand off the baton to the next shift and walk out the door into the night.

Living and dying go on and on – it’s like a river I step in and out of – although of course it’s everywhere all the time, it’s all of us, but it is more explicit and raw and bare at hospice. I say this all the time but it is such deeply fulfilling work to be right in the heart of someone’s last time on earth. I meet them where they are and give them the best care I can and then they go. Impermanence in all its beauty, with all its warts, complete and incomplete, in process, over and over again.

Massive, rotting cancer wound and a still-lovely face and hands, the complexity of family love around her; I understand this quote so well:
“Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love.”

(Quote from Rabindranath Tagore.)

3 years

I’ve been at Zen Hospice Project’s Guest House for 3 years now. I’ve given direct care to about 120 people in their last weeks and days of life. I’ve been bedside with 11 people as they took their final breath. I’ve bathed about 20 dead bodies. I’ve lead about 15 death rituals.

There is the vomit, the diarrhea, the rotting wounds, the pain, the turmoil, the challenging family dynamics, the grief, the fear. And there is the love. The love, the love, the love. The tenderness, the intimacy, the humor, the beauty, the compassion, the transformation, the honesty, the radical acceptance, the profound human connection, and the love. It is an immense honor to be with it all. I am deeply nourished by this work.

I have always found meaningful work in the world, but never have I felt with such passion and clarity that I have found my calling as I do caring for people at the end of life. I am filled with gratitude.