I walked in their door a hospice nurse, but the doula in me decided that it was her work that was needed more, and thankfully the patient and family embraced her. I met them a few weeks ago, at a time when he was just starting to really decline, but still having a fierce desire to live as long as he possibly could, savoring every minute he had left with his family, despite the pain and discomfort he was suffering from. I made a promise to him early on that our team would walk alongside him every step of the way, that he would not be doing this alone, and that I would make sure his wishes were honored. And we did.
His wife, his son and his brother made their way into my heart quickly, and I found myself inspired to not just ensure that his landing was soft, but that theirs was too. I spent nine hours with them today, managing his symptoms and finally getting him to a place where he had no more pain or distress, and could gracefully give in to the dying process.
As a doula, I am very drawn toward ritual and ceremony, which I believe can help to provide a memorable take-away for those who are saying goodbye. I took a chance that they might be open to trying a ritual, and suggested one of my favorites, which they welcomed. I gave them each one strand of embroidery thread, which I cut in half. I then had them take some individual private time with him, tying one strand to his wrist, securing it with four knots. With each knot I invited them to send him off with a prayer, a wish, words of gratitude and love. When they finished doing this, I asked that they sit together and help tie the remaining piece of string on their same wrist, taking turns to each tie a knot, offering comfort, support, and words to help them on their grief journey. I was so touched with the beautiful way they honored him, their love for him, and their love for one another. My hope is that as the first few days of their grief journey begins, they can touch the string on their wrist, feeling connected to him, knowing that they will be forever tied to him, and that their bond of love will be wrapped around them forever.
I was a different person when I walked out their door at the end of the day, a better version of the me I was when I first walked through it... because of them. There was something uniquely beautiful about each one of them and I feel as though they sprinkled some of their magic on me.
I witnessed deep love, strength, bravery, and kindness on a level that raises the bar. I kept my promise to him; I walked alongside him (and them), ensuring that he was cared for well, supported, and that his wishes were honored. But I didn't do it alone, I had the honor of working with a compassionate hospice team, and while we collaboratively provided wonderful care, it was his family who truly led the way, lighting the path with their love for him.
And this is why I love being able to do this work...
Please note that the family gave me permission to share this photo, and their story.