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  • Writer's pictureSusie Pitts

Returning to Hospice Vigils...In Person

Our world fell apart in late February and March and since that time and, until recently I have not been able to do what I am called to do. Being physically present when a person is dying. Now, I realize that this is not for everyone, that facing death is a feat and for some - incomprehensible. In our culture we have become death-avoidant, we don’t want to talk about someone’s impending passing and we don’t want to talk about our own eventual deaths but for people like me I’m not afraid to have those conversations nor am I afraid to be in the presence of someone actively dying.

I knew a long time ago that I had found my reason for being here at this place and time. I have sat vigil for family, friends, and hospice patients for years accompanying the dying until their last breath. For those of us that work in this profession, this is a sacred event to be honored and respected with the deepest wisdom and care. The work I do with hospice is a gift to me and hopefully the calm, care, and nurturing I provide to the dying and the family gives them a sense of peace knowing that being present during such a difficult time is necessary when the loved ones are not able to be present because of their strong emotions.

With the advent of the lockdown though I have not been able to be physically present with dying patients. I can not begin to tell you the adverse effects of this on our society. Dr. Zach Bush, MD well known for his work in palliative and hospice care remarked in a webinar that the isolation experienced by the dying and, the family prevented from being present to those they love is one of the great travesties of this pandemic. He further states that this is almost criminal, that isolation is probably one of the most devastating emotional traumas we can go through. Not being able to touch or hug, sit next to, sing to, pray with, is without a doubt deeply affecting our elderly population and those that have been sequestered due to a COVID infection. Pre-Covid I could just go and “be” present with a patient. This has been excruciatingly painful, and I have so missed being able to be close and provide calm reassurance to those in need. Last week though, I was called to be bedside for a hospice patient. I was so happy that some of the restrictions have been lifted. Now that isn’t to say that many precautions are set in place. I was completely gowned, masked, 'face shielded', and gloved, used anti-bacterial wipes constantly, and when I left, I discarded my gown in the hazard waste bin, removed my gloves properly, and immediately washed my hands. When I got home, I went right to the shower, threw my clothes in the wash, “Clorex-ed” my car and took a deep breath. It was worth wearing all the hospital protection so that I could do what I am made to do.

I miss my calling and I’m glad that I can go see patients again. The journey of dying is not necessarily easy and can be scary. No one should die alone, without loved ones, friends, and caregivers with loving hearts to be by their side. The person I was able to be with had no family and all of his friends have been prevented from seeing him. I am so grateful I was able to be there as he began his journey of leaving this world. He was not alone in the end as he was surrounded by caring people, me being one of them. Maybe, I will get to be present again soon for someone. One thing I know for sure is that it is the most fulfilling and rewarding work I have ever done or ever will do.

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