Published on December 24, 2015

A Nursing Perspective on End-of-Life Care

By Lisa Levy, Registered Nurse

The Dying Have Taught Me How to Live and Not Fear Death

Contrary to what many people think, hospice is actually a very special, life affirming experience.

Contrary to what many people think, hospice is
a very special, life-affirming experience.

I have been a hospice nurse for six years. The underlying premise of why we do the job is a given. At the end of life, Genesis Hospice honors the dignity and wonder of each person and family as we provide physical, emotional, and spiritual care. My work as a staff caregiver teaches me so much about life.

All of Us Are About the Same at Our Core

Hospice teaches me daily that we as people desire the same things at our core, born simply from the dignity of being human. No matter where life has taken us, not matter our successes or failures, we all want to be happy, respected, and loved. 

We all desire to, and we all are able, to make a valuable contribution to this world. Above all, our love can override brokenness and disappointment.

I remember one wintry night I received a call to make an end-of-life visit to a patient who had absolutely no family and very little means. As I drove to the home, I wondered who would be there. I pulled up to the humble dwelling, and to my surprise, saw through the window a group of people gathered. 

I was greeted by hugs, tears, laughter and welcomed to what was all-at-once an impromptu, informal celebration of a life. Gratitude, humorous stories and honor were given to this person who was so greatly loved, valued and appreciated. While this patient did not have much, this person was very rich in what mattered most in life.

An End-of-Life Experience Is as Natural as a Life’s Beginning

Being present to those on an end-of-life journey, providing comfort and presence, is my privilege and my gift, not just my job as a nurse. Dying is as natural and normal as being born.

Being present to those on an end-of-life journey, providing comfort
and presence, is my privilege and my gift, and not just my job
as a nurse. Dying is as natural and normal as being born.

As with the journey from birth, when approaching death there is new knowledge to be gained, unexpected issues emerge and a great sense of vulnerability arises. Patients and their loved ones are reminded how fragile life is. 

Over and over families tell our Genesis Hospice team, which includes our aides, chaplains, social workers, music and massage therapists, nurses, doctors, support staff, and volunteers - all who provide compassionate, personal care - that they never could have coped, let alone cared for, their dying loved one without our coaching through the transitional experience. 

The support of the hospice program for the patient and their loved ones is life enhancing, beyond what words can say.

No One Need Be Alone

One day while working at the Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House, I sat beside a daughter leading her step-by-step through her mom's final hour. This daughter initially could not picture herself at her mom's death, though she desperately wanted to be present. She did not think she could do it. This daughter was young and had just had a baby. We talked and even laughed about how she didn't think she would survive her child's birth, but she did and now she would companion her mom, too, on her mother's end-of-life journey. 

Life can take us by surprise when we find ourselves in crisis while facing a loss. The death of someone we love can cause us to feel like our life is presently spinning out of control.

I wondered how to best help families face the loss of someone dear. Where would I even begin? I’ve learned to begin with my total presence, a hug, a smile, and giving knowledge about what to expect in the final hours, after the death, and what Genesis Grief Support has to offer. No one need be alone. Teaching, coaching and support are what Genesis Hospice is all about. 

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