Most of us have experienced losing a loved one. Those experiences can range from sudden and very traumatic to anticipated and very peaceful. How those moments are handled by those around us and our loved one can be the only thing that brings us peace when we remember their passing.
I held the paws of dying animals for over a decade when I worked in critical care veterinary hospitals. I hoped that any small thing I did at those very end moments would help ease the suffering of the animal, as well as the pain of the humans left behind. Many people tell me they could never bear to see sick and dying animals, but someone has to, so I am grateful that is one of my personal strengths.
During my undergraduate studies, when I was still on the fast track to regular medical school, I was faced with watching a family member die. Her battle lasted for almost 4 months and was very scary to the other people around me. I was scared as well, but my instincts from my job kicked in and I would immediately put my hands on her as she lay in bed.
Every single time I visited, I touched her. I picked up some cheap lavender lotion at CVS and would rub and massage her feet – this allowed her breathing to calm and she would often fall asleep. I would get calls to come right over after school or work when she was having a particularly bad day. Everyone would leave the room and I would go to work massaging her feet. Little did I know (and I wouldn’t find out until I started Chinese medicine school a couple of years later) that I was massaging a lot of powerful acupuncture points on her feet that helped with her respiration and stimulated the calming part of her nervous system.
It wasn’t until I went through that loss of a family member that I learned who takes care of people who are terminal and dying. Most of us don’t know much about it or even think about it. The answer is hospice. Last year I decided that I still wanted to hold the “paws” of those dying, so I trained to become a certified hospice volunteer (for humans) and began dedicating 2-3 hours a week to visiting the patient I was assigned to. I act as their companion through their whole journey of transitioning.
It has been difficult, but it has also been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. We are all going to pass. I would want someone holding my hand, or massaging my feet, while I went through one of the two biggest events in life. As a hospice volunteer, I have met some amazing people and seen their courage and strength. It has taught me skills I didn’t know I had. One thing that remains – the power of touch is amazing!
Hospice is not a place where people go to die. Instead, they get supported in many different ways to make their transition from life as comfortable as possible for them and their loved ones. Most hospice care is provided in the home, not in a hospital or clinic. Research shows that with this support, many people actually live longer. Those who are in a hospice facility can be sent home if they are doing well and their life expectancy is more than six months. Hospice care may be available without charge and can be determined by calling your local hospice center.
One of my goals as a health-care provider is to increase the amount of love in the world, even if it’s on a small scale. If we all gave back to our communities in some way, the results would be amazing! Volunteering, in general, can give people real satisfaction, motivation and a sense of purpose. It can be particularly rewarding for retired people. If you might be interested in volunteering for hospice, please contact your local hospice center and ask how you can become certified. It just might change your life too.
Erin West is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and licensed acupuncturist in Gilbert, Arizona specializing in pain and infertility. She loves sharing her passion for natural approaches to health through her online articles and at her clinic, Emend Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, at America’s Health Center on South Val Vista Drive. Call for an appointment at 480-788-1757.