Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gifts From Another Day at the Hospice

I had planned to share the recipe for my carrot and fennel salad, and at the same time, write about the virtue of practicing mindfulness while mincing carrots. That was last night, during a tranquil moment in the kitchen, and before I went back to Hospice of the Valley for a second round of volunteer training.

Six hours spent learning about symptom management, and universal precautions, and hospice patients and their diagnosis, and death awareness, invited a strong emotional reaction that I could not ignore. Rather than sitting, I chose to take Bailey out for a long walk on the Stanford campus. My body needed a break after a whole day spent in the hospice's conference room.

Step after step, I kept being brought inside. First meeting what felt like anger, although I wasn't so sure. Hardly any thoughts. Only feeling, and breath, and tug from the dog. Lingering anger, begging for attention. Soon joined by sadness. Heaviness in the chest, tightness in the throat. Powerful stuff. Temptation to resolve with thinking, and interpretation. No, I knew better. Back to the breath, and each step.

Tonight, I feel grateful for this day at the hospice, being exposed to the reality of life, and death. And for the emotions that got stirred up as a result. Another door opening inside . . .


  1. Your expression sheds the tip of an ice berg. Since John Daido Loori Roshi's recent passing, I've been contemplating Thoreau's words, "I hear beyond the range of sound, I see beyond the verge of sight. I see, smell, taste, hear, feel that everlasting something to which we are all allied at once."

    Intellect cannot penetrate This truth. It's a feeling. It's something which cannot be contained by the matrix of words. And so we will continue our practice, breath, by breath.

    With Deep Bow,


  2. Thank you Seiho, for your most moving words. Deep bow, back.

  3. I was just puzzling how to start writing a talk to local clergy- about end of life, and the role they can play in making it a more positive experience.

    This comes from my own experience. 8 years caring for my mother with dementia. Often difficult and isolating, but points of stillness. and a quiet ending.

    It may be pure chance that a tweet by @martinxo led me here. Feels like a good place to start.

  4. Diana, I am so glad this was helpful to you. I wish you best in your endeavor. The chaplains at the hospice where I am training have been wonderful. It may be worthwhile for you to talk to some of them near you.

  5. Found your post via @ourshiv on Twitter. Thanks for volunteering for hospice. I work in hospice and it is a profoundly moving experience and there are many times when I am amazed at the power of words and how unsettling it can be to think about life and death issues so frequently. I hope you find your volunteer experience rewarding on multiple levels.

  6. Thank you Christian, for the gift of your support. I trust that you yourself have the benefit of a supportive team to help you, as you walk this challenging and also beautiful path.

  7. Yes. I agreed to give a talk next month, to the "rural chapter".

    There are a lot of directions this could take. I am very involved in trying to work towards the practical solutions of how we can care more effectively,and how we can afford to care for an ageing population. I was strongly involved in the work to put together the current Green paper on Care and Care Funding. This is something I have been doing with my MP @davidkidney who is a wonderfully kind and wise man.

    We have also been through a very painful 6 months in Stafford, following a report which was very critical of end of care in the hospital. This has been very divisive. Putting this right is largely about finding the ways to carry out end of life care for very frail elderly people in a better way.

    But beyond that - I feel that we can do all of this better and more kindly if we are more accepting of death. Maybe I can say something about the value of the work that the clergy and church members can do in helping us with this.

    You might be interested in some of the blog entries

    there is a lot more I need to write at some point, especially about the journey I took whilst caring for my mother.

  8. Diana, I left a comment on your blog, here:

    The good news is there are so many opportunities to do good and make a difference! I applaud your efforts, and wish you best. Please keep me updated.