I have neglected to write for awhile, because I started a new job.
Here’s the skinny: I was hired by an amazing local hospice to work in their volunteer department. I started on Monday, and have 5 days under my belt. It’s an enormous blessing to me thus far.
The hospice I work for is called Casa de la Luz, which translates to “House of Light.” It is locally owned and well-respected in the community. It was created by two women named Agnes and Lynette. I’ve gotten bits and pieces of the story, but not the whole thing just yet. Basically, one of the women lost a loved one in a way that caused her to think there must be something better. She started taking classes and eventually decided to start a hospice in Tucson. She called up a friend and pitched the idea for friend to be the business side of things while she herself ran the clinical end, and it grew.
There is a fascinating culture where I work. In the first week, I’ve had tons of training and learning related to death. I toured a mortuary and saw the crematorium. I toured an inpatient unit and something called Kanmar Place, which is a residential house where folks can go when they are ineligible for inpatient services, but either can’t or don’t want to stay in their own homes. It’s possibly the most beautiful property and house I’ve ever seen. However, patients have to cover their own room and board there, which is pricey. I sat in on an Interdisciplinary Team Meeting. That’s where the nurses, docs, social workers, chaplain, and volunteer department get together to talk about patients and make sure we’re doing everything we can for them. I also sat in on the debrief for the most recent Casa memorial service. We host 3 memorial services a year and all of the patients within a certain time-frame are honored.
My job? I will do tons of paperwork and will help manage the volunteer department in any way necessary.
Casa de la Luz currently has 100 active volunteers, and there is a ton that goes into training them, placing them, and keeping them compliant with all of the Medicare, state, federal, and other requirements. They have to have 30 hours of training for general volunteer work, and then there are additional classes they have to take in order volunteer in certain specialties. Also, they have continuing education hours to get every year. It’s possibly the most rigorous volunteer process I’ve ever encountered.
Every morning, it will be my job to run a report of all deaths and graduations. Graduation is when a person no longer qualifies for hospice care because the normal course of their diagnosis would lead them to live for longer than 6 months. Then, I will call all of the volunteers who lost a patient and let them know. I will assign volunteers to patients, based on what the patient needs, what the volunteer is willing to do, and the geographic distances between people.
So… what can a hospice volunteer actually do????
They mostly sit with patients, quietly. They watch tv with patients, play chess with them, read to them, sing to them, massage their feet, etc… Sometimes, they go grocery shopping for the family, although there are a ton of regulations about how that can be done. Often, their time sitting with patients is an opportunity for the primary caregiver to get out of the house and go to the doctor’s, see a movie, or otherwise have a respite from caregiving. We also have bereavement volunteers who serve as companions to those who’ve lost someone in the past year, and we have vigil volunteers who sit around the clock with those who are actively dying. I know that’s a strange term: “actively dying,” but it is what it is. We have a program specifically for veterans, because their needs are unique and we want to honor their service appropriately.
Amidst all of this death and illness, hospice is not the sad culture you might expect it to be. The people around me are respectful of death and life in a way that I’ve not encountered before… or perhaps I’ve just never encountered it in such concentration.
My coworkers love people. They want joy, dignity, and closure for all of their patients. They want peace, and they do everything in their power to provide all of those fleeting and intangible ideals in individual’s lives.
Some things Casa does that I didn’t expect… Casa has a non-profit attached to it that raises funds to support patients and their families. Sometimes, Casa will help reunite families who live across the country from one another. Sometimes, Casa will pay for a family to have an A/C in the summer months, even though the family can’t afford it on their own. Casa will sometimes write wine or bacon into a care plan, because it’s something the patient loves. Casa will help patients resolve conflicts with those they love. Casa will help patients formulate and communicate their end of life wishes.
Perhaps the best way to describe the Casa culture is something along the lines of peaceful submission to forces outside of human control. There is a strong sense that death is not something we should fight, because it isn’t ours to direct, and death isn’t necessarily bad/evil or to be feared.
And that brings me to something incredibly personal and relevant to my life. Please don’t take this the wrong way, because I’m not and have never been suicidal, but for the past five years or so, I’ve not enjoyed being alive. I don’t exactly know how to say it, because, again, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, but I liken it to the end of the movie Armageddon, when the Russian astronaut is trying to get the ship working so they can get off of the asteroid. He starts banging on a certain part of the ship, and he yells, “I don’t want to be here anymore!”
That’s sort of how I feel. It’s even a little childish, in the same way that a child may feel that, “I don’t want to be here anymore!” when she’s forced to sit through adults talking politics. I’ve known, as this thought has grown in my head, that there’s something I’m really missing – something in my theology and my heart that doesn’t understand God or His desires for human life.
This attitude I’ve had causes me to think it’s more than serendipitous that I’m currently working somewhere that death is such a prominent, central focus. I didn’t seek this job out. In fact, I saw it posted for a long time, and did not apply. I interviewed for other jobs, for which I’m incredibly qualified… and I wasn’t offered any of those jobs. It feels like divine intervention. It feels like God wants to show me what I’ve been misunderstanding – like He put Casa and me together intentionally.