When I walked in the room, I could see she was struggling… for life, for breath, and for peace, and when she said to me, “can you help me?” I knew she was also struggling for relief from her suffering, which she had been dealing with for quite some time. My heart ached for her and all who love her. Knowing time was precious, I reached out to her hospice team and collaboratively we were able to come up with a medication plan that honored her wishes, comforted the family, and truly brought her peace.
Her desire was to be palliatively sedated until her body let go on its own, when it was ready, while also allowing her freedom from the tight grip the suffering had on her. She wanted to feel peace before she died, she wanted to, even if for just a short amount of time, feel what it was like not to suffer. We did that for her. Her family did that for her.
I had a brief conversation with her before the medications were started, we talked about what she wanted, what she needed from me, and how we could help her. When I let her know that a plan was in place, that it was exactly what she asked for, and that she would finally be free from her discomfort, she looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said, “thank you.” Never before have those words had such an impact on me.
I left their home before she died, checking in on all of them a few times that evening before I went to bed, and they called the next morning to let me know she had died, peacefully with family present, and love surrounding her.
When someone is dying, I have learned to trust that the body knows what to do, and sometimes we must wait, which is hard for everyone. But when someone is suffering, and begging for you to relieve them, you know in your heart that there is something you can do, but you need your team to rally alongside you and come up with a plan that can bring peace for all. My team did that, I am not a solo act, her peace was because of our team, and that means so much to me.
People often ask me how I can do this work, how I can witness so much pain and suffering, and death, and dying, and grieving. What I witness is life, family, faith, strength, bravery, culture, tradition, and love. We are not God, we do not have a magic wand, we cannot stop the disease process, but we can listen when someone asks us for help, we can honor their wishes, we can offer support and comfort to everyone in the room in such a way that let’s everyone know they have been heard and that their voice matters.
When I hung up the phone with her family, I immediately lit a candle. I said her name out loud, I sent love to all who will be grieving, and I sat in silence for a few moments as I honored the life that had ended. And then I whispered, "thank you" to her and to her family for trusting us with her care, knowing in my heart that those words meant so much more than they had before I met her.
I am filled with gratitude to do this work.
So much gratitude.
Hospice nurse/end-of-life doula