I have now been in the hospice field for three years as a volunteer, intern, and finally, a social worker. At age 22, I spend my days working with patients who have been given a prognosis of six months or less to live, their loved ones, and the incredible staff who care for these patients and their families.
On some level, I understand that. There are jobs in this world that I couldn’t do either. I doubt I could give someone a shot without passing out, or teach students to solve a geometrical proof without getting a migraine.
However, do I believe that everyone has the capacity to be compassionate? Yes. Be caring? Yes. Be human? Yes. And honestly, when push comes to shove, that is what hospice workers must be and do. Is our work easy? No. But is it always depressing? Absolutely not!
Hospice care isn’t just about death and dying. It’s about learning what is most important in life—and making every moment count. Working in hospice has been the most fulfilling experience of my life so far. I know I will take what I have learned from hospice care, and continually apply it for the rest of my life. Although the life lessons I have learned are innumerable, here are a few of the important ones:
1) Communication really is key
It can be intimidating to engage in a conversation with someone you don’t know well. However, communication really is the key to establishing good, solid relationships, whether they are between coworkers or friends, within a family system, or between helper and a client. Effective communication makes for better, more meaningful interactions!
2) It is important to assert yourself
If you have an idea, throw it out there. If you bring something to the table, share it. If you know a mistake has been made, speak up. You have to be willing to stand up for yourself; and if someone is unable to do so for him or herself, a helper needs to step in and advocate for that person. Life is too short to sit quietly.
3) Plans don’t always work out, and that’s ok
While it can be beneficial to plan ahead, it is also important to get comfortable going with the flow. When the unexpected occurs, good or bad, a helper should be ready. Stressing out over a disruption in plans only causes more disruption. Flexibility is usually better for everyone involved.
4) Tough times get easier and tough people get stronger
Sometimes, life throws a lot at you all at once—maybe in one’s professional life, or maybe emotionally, physically, etc. The only thing you can do in these situations is your best. It helps to focus on the good, and to prioritize what is most important. The storm will run out of rain eventually!
5) Sometimes, you just do what needs to be done
Just because it isn’t in the job description doesn’t mean you are not capable of doing it. Selflessness and sacrifice speak volumes. The two minutes it takes to wipe down the table in the break room, to grab ice chips for a patient’s water, to crack a cheesy joke, are minutes well-spent. Some tasks are not glamorous, and do not offer rewards, but are necessary. Be the person who is willing to do what needs to get done. You will be appreciated, whether you know it or not.
6) “Little things” shouldn’t be taken for granted
There are so many small joys that we take for granted in this life. The sunset, the way your dog greets you when you return home, the way hot coffee tastes on a cool fall mornings, etc. There is goodness all around us, if we take the time to appreciate it. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow; therefore, each day is truly a gift.
7) A smile is a game-changer
A simple smile can turn a person’s entire day around. Smiling has positive psychological effects on not only the person who smiles, but the people around them as well. When a situation is looking grim, a smile can light up the room!
I consider myself blessed to be learning these lessons and more each day as a hospice social worker.