I am getting ready to return to hospice in a volunteer capacity and
I am excited! The volunteer training starts in less than two weeks.
One of the things asked of me in prep for the training is to find a photo that represents what hospice means to me … I sat with it over night and asked … what would that be? What represents hospice to me? There is so much!
The memory of one of my favorite clients flashed across my awareness this morning along with the image of pigeons on a wire … of course! Yes!
This man was a beautiful human. I suspect he didn’t fully believe that. He was married several times, girlfriends …. Lots of them … estranged children … and when it came down to the end, as the cancer took him out, he spent those days, in his words by choice, in a nursing center where he would not burden the ones he’d pushed away. And where he could die on his terms rather than those of his family.
I adored this One. We’d sit in the courtyard, he in his wheelchair with a cigarette, me on a chair or one of the stone benches, and we would chat – about everything. First about how he was doing physically, his pain level … were the pain meds working and next about the things that mattered to him outside of his dying body. Pigeons frequented that courtyard and he had a love for those pigeons. Talked to them, about them. We laughed a lot in that courtyard.
And when he died … the hard death I knew it would be despite my best efforts at facilitating a smooth relatively comfortable death, I saw pigeons everywhere coupled with his laughter as I drove up the freeway to wherever I was going at the time. Pigeons on the freeway signs. Pigeons on a the cables ~ they were everywhere.
So that is the image reminds me of him and of what hospice at its best is for me.
Hospice is connection at a level beyond the physical. It is about profound and exquisite self care right to the end.
Hospice is the allowing of the tiny pleasures in life to encircle the pain, to give the pain room to move.
Hospice is about remembering.
Allowing what is to be.
It is mindfulness on the brink, a perpetual opportunity to tune in to the joy of the moment.
It is laughter. It is dance. It is music.
Hospice is the feeling of walking the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette in a trenchcoat after a good death. This visual appeared to me after a particularly good, and hard to take in death of a woman who died young. Fought hard, died young. I don’t smoke- (well, in full disclosure, I did for six months in my 20th year, liked it too much so stopped while I still could with ease) yet I felt every sensation … up to and including the flavor of the tobacco as I inhaled it … a little like I imagine smoking a cigarette to be after a particularly good orgasm.
It is a celebration of the goodness of the experience and the allowing of the sensations of loss that accompany it to have their way, release, and begin to cultivate the new way of being with the soul that just left.
And the fact that the core of us never dies. It shifts form ….
This shifting of form is not unfamiliar territory. Every one of us has experienced a shift in form of something that is important to us – a relationship with a lover, with a parent, a city, a career, the release into ecstacy, the leaving behind of that ecstatic sensation (that we so want to hold onto) as we build into the next. Cycles of creation. The finishing of a project, the moving into the next.
Forms are always shifting, energy is always moving and if you pay attention, no one ever truly dies.
We change forms. We move from being physically palpable to energetically present and sometimes energetically palpable. It is the physical form that dies, that gives up its consciousness.
And for me, there has been no greater joy than coaching someone through that process. It takes a fierce level of braveness because it demands that you stand present in the face of what many consider to be unthinkable, unimagineable pain.
And so far, I’ve found nothing to be more enlivening.
Presence in the face of what is no longer to me, unthinkable pain.
It awakens me, enlivens me and reminds me of what is important.