Photo from – unusedwords.com
Many years ago I knew someone who was working hard to get a hospice in the city of Perth. They and others achieved that aim, and now there are several facilities offering hospice care around the metro. Hospice care is for when there is nothing more that can be done for an ill person. It is holistic in that it covers more than just patient care and medication. It is all about reaching out to the family of the dying person (so that children are included and so that pets can also be included). And in regard to the person dying it offers spiritual guidance (which can be independent of a religious affiliation); social worker help; volunteers to sit with the person, allowing family to take time out; pain management, and general care.
I’ve had cause to visit people in hospice over the years. It is hard to accept death, but even more so for those who are family and close friends. Often they desire a miracle, a cure, something, a magic pill. I guess we’d all like a panacea that offers a comfortable exit.
But in my experience there is an alarming avoidance of pain to the point that death is sanitised. Now I’m not wedded to any view of assisted dying (euthanasia) or opposed to it in principle, but assisted dying is an avoidance of pain, perhaps a fear of pain. A common statement I hear often is “I’m not afraid of dying, but …. I don’t want to end in pain.” But who does?
I need to tread carefully here, but there is something about how pain is part of our journey as humans. This life is not a constant pleasure ride. Yet we desire to be rid of it, to avoid it, to never have pain. I’m struck by people who live with all sorts of pain, Maximillian Kolbe the Polish priest who gave his life in place of a young Jewish husband and father that this man might have life. Martin Luther King Jnr. who knew that death and discomfort was a real risk; the many people I have been privileged to journey with through terminal ilness and dying. Pain cannot be romanticised, nor should it be glorified, but yet it must be faced. Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her groundbreaking work of 1969, wrote passionately about dying and grieving.
Two things she has said:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. these persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”
Hospice is no panacea, it simply manages pain, among other aspects of life and death. Somehow I believe that we shouldn’t rush to end pain, not so that we can build character or grow, but so that we can face ourselves, our body, and all that goes with pain and death. And maybe we’ll overcome our fear of pain if we face up to it, and take a different route. In some ways, I’d like to see my carvings, my beautiful scars and know them. So don’t search for a panacea for me, just sit with me when the time comes, and rejoice in the beauty of the carvings of my life.