Hopespotters, HELLO! You may have heard there is an election today that will decide the 45th President of the United States. Kind of a big deal, you know? If you are a media “watchdog”, you may have heard that the country is very divided about the two presidential candidates; apparently many people don’t even like either of them! Presently, we are a nation chanting “I’m with Her” vs those chanting “Make America Great Again.”
Of course, I am kidding with the light heartedness in my tone. Today is a very big deal in determining our country’s future and many Americans are passionate about their choice. As I write this, results are coming in, but no winner has been declared. On this blog, I have tried to avoid any political conversations or debates. In this space, they are purposeless. What I have tried to do, however, is try, at times, to bring what I learn in my days meeting with and caring for the terminally ill and apply the great perspective that gives me to some things about which we can all relate.
Today’s Election is really a great opportunity for that. And I say that without taking the hospice experience or this election lightly.
When I am called to meet with a patient and family newly referred to hospice, I understand that the call to me may have been the hardest call they’ve ever had to make. And while each patient and family is unique, I have come to learn the commonalities in the experience after 16 years.
Battling advanced disease, for most people, is an all out, gloves off, no holds barred war. Regardless of whether the diagnosis is cancer, ALS or any other end stage disease, patients come to hospice straight of the battlefield. Since the moment they learned of their illness, patients fight for treatment and relentlessly pursue their goal of cure. Many may argue with specialists, travel far away for “better answers” and become exhausted by their fight. Patients’ families, unconditionally by their side, advise them, advocate for them, pray for them. A groundswell of community support is essential for victory. In war against advanced illness, there is passion, there is rage, and there is a tremendous amount of energy expended. Every person involved has clung to HOPE and faced bitter disappointment, sometimes over and over again.
So you can understand that when the day comes to call hospice and I ring the bell, there is no victory party. Patients and families are defeated. The battle for cure has not been won and the war wounds are deep. All the belief and positive energy that went into envisioning a different outcome goes right out the door at the same moment I walk in it. And that is very, very sad.
I am not here to spin a tale of how the angels of hospice make it all better and everyone lives happily ever after. Because they don’t. Someone precious usually dies and often times way sooner than their family expected. Despite all the good things I can say, and do believe, about the positive impact of hospice, the mortality reality is grim and harsh.
When we do our job to the best of our ability, the hospice team takes the opportunity to surround the patient and family with support and expertise and this critical message: there are still things to fight for and there are still things to hope for. While cure may not come, we have this day, and hopefully more, to live well, uphold quality of life, and do some ‘final work’ that needs to be done. We can give and get forgiveness. We can tell stories of happy times. We can be present. Because by doing those things and doing them well, a legacy is created. The final chapter in that patient’s time on earth is marked by peace. And as the narrative of that family’s life goes on, the legacy of this loving time becomes a cornerstone for their ability to go on.
Even if it isn’t easy.
When someone wins this election, someone is going to lose. Those that battled and campaigned for the belief system that didn’t come out on top are likely to grieve. They will be bewildered and they will be angry. Time, money, energy, passion has been spent and seemingly lost. And now the “losers” must live and work amongst the “winners”. Just like the husband who lost his wife to breast cancer yet still walks in the “3 day” with survivors of the disease, the reality will sting. Why did I fight so hard and why didn’t it go my way?
With this parallel, I invite the country to take a page from the hospice playbook. WE have to focus on how WE, as the citizens of the United States of America, want to establish our legacy from this time in history and WE have to go on. It will be our greatest gift to the younger generations. WE MUST remember that despite the outcome, there are always things to fight for and always things to HOPE for. To each side I would say, you couldn’t have fought any harder (maybe nicer, but not harder). With the knowledge that this is the path WE have now been given, whatever that is, WE have to leave the fight for the office of the President behind because that fight is over. What WE have to do is take the opportunity to hold a hand, to give and get forgiveness and to be at peace. And then, WE have to go on.Together.
Even if it isn’t easy.
God Bless the USA!