I didn’t get the reaction I wanted when I told my academic advisor I wanted to focus my Marriage and Family Therapy internship towards helping families going through “End-Of-Life” transitions.
“What, you mean Hospice?” She said. I confirmed with a determined nod. “Why?” She asked, looking quite puzzled. Little did I know this wouldn’t be the first time someone much older than me would question my decisions because of my youth. It seems that I had to justify and explain myself to strangers more often than I would have liked. The question “Why” still gets asked often and I’ve perfected my response to a simple 2 word answer: Why not? It was my understanding that Marriage and Family Therapy focuses on family systems. Families of all kinds go through the end-of-life process as some point or another. These transitions can be difficult because of the stigma attached to death. It is one of the great mysteries of life. Different cultures have different ideas and expectations of what happens during the process of and after death. One fact remains certain; families remain left behind and often struggle with creating the shape of the family system with someone missing. This is because it is no longer the same shape. My job is to help families envision their new shape and guide them to piecing themselves together with a strong, connected bond.
That being said, there is a commonality among patient and families issue with hospice. It’s one of the main hurdles I hear during info and intake visits. Most people associate hospice with giving up.
Hospice does not mean giving up.
There is a fine line between giving up on a family member and wanting them to be comfortable when nothing else can be done. Our clinical staff always has the patients, and their families, at heart. Taking the time to really define what each family wants for their loved one and what our patients personally want keeps power on the side of the patient. Giving up holds the context of losing power, and while we cannot control death, Hope Hospice is able to give power back to families and patients as they make informed decisions.
The uniqueness of Hope Hospice’s approach to service is that is treats the patient as a whole. It recognizes that patients have family and that the trauma of death affects more than just the dying.
Our social workers work hard to provide comfort and resources for each person on our services and problem solves to resolve caregiver burnout. Our chaplains are unique and culturally sensitive to every walk of life that passes through our presence while remaining available for provide emotional support to families at any given time. The nurses and nursing assistants are thorough in their assessments and take the time to genuinely know patients and their personal environments. Lastly, the agency has taken my internship on to create a position for me to serve the community.
When I reflect on my hospice internship, I think of the sacred opportunities between loved ones to cultivate valuable memories and establish long-lasting legacies. Marriage and Family Therapy has a place in hospice as we focus on navigating, maintaining, and sometimes reestablishing relationships throughout the end-of-life journey. The emotional voyage families and loved ones take with one another through this process is essential and priceless. In my internship, I have striven to facilitate authentic and meaningful conversations that will influence future interactions and provide positive experiences with our hospice mission. These interactions are an honor to witness and have made my internship very meaningful.