10 Life Lessons Learned from Hospice Patients

Young-Woman-with-Elderly-WomanEach day spent caring for people who are living their last moments or taking their last breaths might seem like a difficult job. But for Memorial Home Hospice caregivers, the rewards are countless. When the end of life is near, the unimportant falls away and a reminder of what it means to really live rises to the top.

“As a nurse, I have the privilege of assisting families and patients at the most vulnerable times in their lives,” said Maureen Tarrant, a Memorial Hospice nurse. “The bonds you forge with families last a long, long time.”

This privilege teaches our hospice providers valuable life lessons. Here are ten of those lessons they are reminded of in their daily work.

1. It’s the journey, not the destination.
“My 12 years working in hospice care have taught me there truly is a deeper meaning in the old adage ‘It’s the journey, not the destination,’” said Lora Wyatt, Hospice clinical supervisor. When hospice patients are at the end of their lives, they aren’t talking about how they are going to die, they are talking about how they lived.

2. The most important things in life aren’t things. They’re people.
Too often, we get caught up in the material things, but the richness of life lies in the quality of our relationships. “The best end-of-life experiences happen when a patient is surrounded by the ones they love, those who walked through this life with them who are there in the final steps of the journey, those who will treasure the memories they made together and will carry on their legacy of love,” said Deb Whitson, Hospice clinical supervisor.

3. Forgive.
Choose to forgive. Don’t carry that burden around. At the end of your life there will be no room for old resentments, so let them go.

4. Be present.
This one is important in today’s constantly changing, fast-paced society. Don’t be trapped by your dinging phone, glued to the TV or stuck dwelling on the past. At the end of your life, you won’t care what’s happening on Facebook, but you will remember the time you spent laughing and talking with your family and friends.

5. Pursue your passion in life.
Do it now while you’re still healthy! Life is short, so work at a job you love, travel the world, go back to school or buy that sports car. “This is where the Sharing Wishes fund really makes a difference for our patients by giving them the opportunity to check one of the ‘should haves’ off the list,” said Alexis Walch who helps oversee the Sharing Wishes fund. The patients who have lived their passion leave life with peace of mind knowing they did what they came to do.

6. It’s never too late to make a difference in someone’s life.
Your time and compassion is the greatest gift you can give someone, especially when that person is at their most vulnerable place in life. “Sometimes, the most powerful medicine is to be a loving presence in the room,” said Fawn Hoener, Hospice nurse. Smile at people you see on the street. Hold a door open for someone. You never know when your simple act will change someone’s life.

7. Take care of your body.
Many healthy people take their bodies for granted. It’s not until we’re sick that we start to realize how valuable our health is. “If you have your health, you are very blessed,” said Andrea Zaffiri, Hospice nurse. “One of the best investments people can make is in their health.”

8. Be grateful for even the smallest things in life.
Things we may take for granted now—going to the bathroom on our own, knitting, cooking our own food, getting up to walk outside—may one day be taken from us. Working with hospice patients who genuinely appreciate these simple pleasures in life, or even reminisce about the simple things they miss, is a reminder to be grateful.

9. Our pets can be our greatest companions.
Pets provide unconditional love. “I had a patient who had a little dog that laid his head on her cheek as she took her last breath and remained there until the funeral home arrived,” said Marlene Ladley, Hospice supervisor. Many pets seem to know when someone is terminally ill and will stay with that person, in their bed, on their lap, bringing them comfort and peace until the very end.

10. Live like today is your last day. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow.
Kyli Streckfuss, Hospice volunteer and community education coordinator, shared one of her favorite quotes from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Those types of thoughts don’t typically come to us as we focus on our jobs, schedules and routine tasks. So wake up, and do something that thrills you today.