The Most Surprising Thing I Learned Working In Hospice Care

In retrospect, hospice work isn't so outrageous a field for me to enter.

I hadn't thought about what kind of kid I was until beginning my second-year clinical internship this year at an inpatient hospice in Philadelphia. I asked about death early, and I asked a lot of questions. Here and there, memories emerge of conversations I had early on while sitting in the backseat, listening to NPR. I remember a story about palliative care, and remember asking why it was controversial (this was more than a few years ago).

Even so, I was scared to begin my internship. I was scared to hold people's grief and anguish, scared of all the myriad ways that countertransference seeps out of our interactions with death and dying, scared to be considered weird and different for my interesting in working in thanatology.

But I forged ahead. I took the internship, still slightly frightened and unsure, and gave myself permission to find a new placement if I couldn't handle working in hospice.

I could not be more pleased that I did just that. Working in hospice feels like it suits my soul, something at the very nature and essence of my being. People always ask me about what I do, and I grit my teeth before telling them, knowing that the reaction is a bit of morbid shock and awe, some fear, some respect hiding in the background.

And I feel all those things, every single day, every interaction I have with a patient or their family. I am honored to participate in this process, to provide comfort, reassurance, and stability.

Something I have realized during my work in hospice is that to have an interest in death and dying does not imply a morbid fascination with the end of life. To me, it suggests a deep reverence for the life we are all lucky to live, even if only for a short time.

In assisting individuals and families through the dying process, we are also showing them how to continue living. To provide comfort to patients and their families and to do so with dignity, to lead by example in living a life that is affected by death but not overshadowed by it lets families know that they can do the same.

To a certain extent, I believe that hospice work is the kind of work you do if you can. There is something of a moral obligation to respond to the calling, or inclination, or interest--whatever you want to call it. The nurses, social workers, doctors and volunteers I have been fortunate enough to work with this past year are such immensely dedicated, compassionate, strong individuals, who perform their work with strength, pride, but above all, tenderness.

I feel blessed to be a part of a team that gives themselves to their work, that respects their patients and families, and that above all, honors life.