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By Lorraine Thayer, RN

I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be a nurse.

I have been practicing for more than 25 years and not for one minute have I felt anything but gratitude about the opportunities this profession has afforded me. I learned about hospice early in my career. I worked in an impoverished area; many of my patients could not afford preventative health care. As a result many times their disease was beyond cure when I first met them. What we could offer was comfort and a peaceful passing. While my friends were busy working in operative suites and ICU’s and delivery rooms, I found my calling at the bedside of those for whom medicine had little to offer. Hospice nursing, however, had much to offer these men and women. This blog entry is about gratitude for the opportunity afforded me to spend the most intimate time of a person’s life with them.

When I was new to hospice, I believed everyone would die in their own home surrounded by the people they loved most. Thank you to John, a 22-year-old man with AIDS, who died in my arms in the middle of the night only a few minutes after he had told his family to go home he would see them in the morning. John taught me that sometimes a person needs to take that final walk alone. I have seen this happen many times over the years since that first young man.

When I was new to hospice, I believed that all deaths would be pain free. Thank you to Ann, a 76-year-old woman with cancer that had spread throughout all her major organs and to her bones. She had a great spiritual conviction. In this belief she felt that, as in childbirth, there needed to be pain associated with the dying process. Her family supported her decision. Although Ann suffered some physical pain, she was one of the most peaceful spiritual people I have ever known. Sometimes after leaving her house I cried for her. Silly me.

Thank you Ann, for teaching me each person’s journey is their own. There are many roads to get to the same destination.

When I was new to hospice, I believed everyone would benefit from the hospice philosophy. That my role was to walk them through the stages of dying. That when they did pass away, all their “issues” would be worked through allowing them a peaceful passing. Thank you Joanne, a 42-year-old woman who suffered a seizure on her honeymoon in Asia. Upon her return a brain cancer was identified for which there was no treatment. Joann’s place of comfort was denial. She did not want to work through any process. She lived each minute of her life never admitting her time was limited. One night, no different than any other Joanne went to sleep, never to awaken.

Thank you Joann, for teaching me that each of us is only guaranteed the minute we are living in, and nothing beyond.

I am no longer a new hospice nurse. I have years of experience and even an advanced degree. Yet I continue to learn about the joys that can be found towards the end of life.
I keep in my heart and prayers every person who has allowed me to join them in their journey. I am grateful for their kindness and generosity. My life has been forever changed and enhanced because I am a hospice nurse.

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