Hospice patients come to our care after being cut, burned, and poisoned. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment are the normative methods of care for most of the patients who enter a life-threatening disease. Hospital staff members are trained to be aggressive about curative care.
Hospice care is a phase of care whereby aggressive treatment is no longer appropriate. Palliative care becomes the norm. Patients have been probed physically, mentally, and emotionally. In many ways, patients may be reluctant to any type of care beyond the experiences that led to his/her doctor sharing that no more can be done.
The purpose of this article is to claim that much more can be done. Our Doctors and Nurses are trained to help patients receive medication that stabilizes and even diminishes pain and suffering physically. Social Workers are trained to help patients and families deal with emotional, practical, and legal issues surrounding loss and grief. Spiritual Counselors help with the integration of emotional well-being and a sense of faith and hope beyond one’s self-awareness.
There are three aspects of the grieving process I wish to mention in this brief article:
The Heart of Care,
The Heart of Compassion, and
An Awakened Heart
Since I am a Spiritual Counselor for Hospice Care, I will take a spiritual approach to grief care.
The Heart of Care
The heart of care centers it’s attention on the needs of the patient who is dying. Any attempt to move a patient away from his/her authentic character becomes a war of wills. As we listen and care for a person just as he/she is, we are allowing a person to die the way he/she lived. Our ability to meet a person in unconditional love will draw out the desire to be fully known by the patient. Here, we are given opportunities to meet him/her in grace and mercy.
Patients are not a disease. Patients are awakening into soul. Mary was a strong-willed person who did not want to die. She had a strong personality. She had many roles she carried out in life, and she wanted to hold on to them all. She was a mother, friend, wife, among many other roles.
About two weeks before Mary died, she shared with me that she became aware of two identities: one was her strong personality and the other was a presence of peace she could not explain. The closer Mary came to her dying, the more she could identify with wanting peace over suffering. This identity with her soul became more appealing to her than living in a body that was failing her. She was awakening into her authentic self.
The Heart of Compassion
A dying patient gives up so much in their dying that he/she is tempted to hold on to what is left in their life. Even if holding on means more pain and suffering, some patients do try to do so. As care givers, we need to be sensitive to this aspect of a patient’s letting go process. A patient needs support and guidance to simply learn to move from letting go (an act of the will) to letting be (getting into harmony with one’s dying). A person offering care will enter into the heart of compassion by giving a patient space to enter into this process of moving from “letting go” to “letting be.”
As a person dies, their personality will give way to their soul. In the process, a heart is broken. This desire to escape a painful body and embrace peace (one’s authentic-self) is complicated by the desire to remain with those he or she has loved. This built up tension creates a path one has to choose inside them that transcends individual and collective conscious awareness. In essence, this is a matter of survival for the soul. This path moves a person’s soul forward.
Funeral services remind us, it is the soul of a person that draw us to face death and not the deceased body. These services serve as a symbol of transition for the loved one who has died and those reflecting on the life of the deceased. A relationship that once was created outside us and in the body of another person no longer applies. Now, relationships with the deceased are internal and completely within us creating an invisible bond forever linking our awareness to a spacial quality within us drawing those left behind deeper into soul.
An Awakened Heart
An awakened heart knows there is more to life than what appears on the surface.
Dying people lead us to this place where eternal relationships are forged into the deepest aspects of our nature. It is our nature to love and feel love. Even grief has the capacity to deepen our sense of sacredness toward those we love.
A year ago, I gave a talk for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in Los Angeles, CA. I was gone about a week. When I returned, my youngest son gave me a big hug. I missed him and he missed me. I could feel him literally fill my heart with love. In a real way, my soul was touched by my son’s soul. An awakened heart knows that this is the heart of relationships.
In the landscape of the soul, what matters in life IS NOT matter. When we begin to look through our eyes and not with them, we enter into a view of life from the perspective of soul. Insight, to see from within, enables us to encounter death with hope, with faith, and with love.
As we grow in our capacity to see from within, we enter into the heart of grief. This emergence into the nature of soul will sustain us through death and into life – eternal. May the Creator of us all give us strength for the journey.
Samuel Oliver, author of, “What the Dying Teach Us: Lessons on Living”