The power of listening
Caring for the injured or sick has its great reward: healing. But for hospice nurses, healing takes on a different look. Recently, a team of HFHS hospice nurses helped to transform a 40-year-old mother’s final days into a time of fulfillment and long-lasting impact on her children’s lives.
The team of hospice nurses talked at length with this patient to get to the root of her emotional suffering. When the patient asked her nurse, “Am I going to die?” the nurse responded with, “Why do you ask?” This thoughtful and honest response was the catalyst for a rich conversation that revealed the patient’s deep emotional suffering. In addition to knowing that her breast cancer had metastasized to her lungs and liver, she was distraught that her three children, aged 10-12, were so young and that she would not be there for so many important times in their lives.
The nurse began discussions with this patient to see what could be done to help guide and support her children after she was gone. As a result, the patient began writing letters to her children to be read at significant times in their lives: getting their driver’s licenses, their graduations and birthdays, etc. When she grew too frail to write, the social worker assisted.
Because of this idea of creating future memories, her children will not be without her advice and pride at these times in their lives. In addition to the letters, the patient was encouraged by the social worker to create new memories with her family such as movie nights, reading together, creating picture albums, sharing her childhood adventures and struggles, while also complimenting their strength of character.
By tending to the whole person and keying in on the origin of this patient’s suffering, the team helped her to create new, happy memories for her children, all while lessening her emotional suffering.
“The heart of hospice is to find out what matters to the patient and work to satisfy their need,” said HFHS Vice President of Hospice, Lori Crow. “Every patient has different needs. The physical needs are easy to find. But the suffering that occurs from the pain of loss, anticipatory grief, changes in the family role, desire for one more birthday or seeing a graduation can be far greater than physical pain. As a team, we work to ease their pain no matter the source.”
This is a remarkable story that highlights the courage of hospice nurses and social workers who step into a person’s deep grief and suffering and to find a solution that can ease their pain. Thank you to this hospice team for creating joy and relief for this family when originally none could be found.