Originally, as Webster 1913 notes, hospices were shelters which members of religious orders maintained for poor travelers. Today, hospice care sees to the needs of terminally ill persons and their families. The focus of hospice is not to lengthen the life of the patient, but rather to increase the quality of those last days. Many hospices only accept persons which have fewer than 6 months remaining.

In Spring 1999, I did volunteer work at a hospice in association with a high school class about dying. All of the patients I attended to are now dead, whether it be from cancer, AIDS, or whatever other ailment was destroying them. So how was my experience? Soul-lifting. I beg of you: try to volunteer at one sometime. There are few better feelings than to see the smile on a dying person's face as you bring them water or talk to them about their youth. Just the knowledge that a few simple actions on my part can dramatically increase the quality of life of another is so sublime. Watching a baseball game with a bedridden man, helping a dying horse racing fan pick out the trifecta for the day's races, bringing an occupied wheelchair down the stairs and outside so someone can have a smoke - five minutes of effort can help a person live happily in the shadow of death.

Many were old, but not all. Their skin was falling off of their faces. Their bodies were covered in bruises and lesions. Their eyes were sunken into their heads. In many cases, their mind was dying at least as fast as their body. A few had regressed into infant-like behavior. None of this scared me at all, but the pity courses through you. You want nothing more than to reach out to them, to have an impact on them, to heal them. But it is their time. Everyone dies, and mortality is the cord which binds us all. Death is not a thing to fear and shy away from. The living have a duty to the dying. What we can do is turn their death into a celebration of life, and what better gift is there to give?

I'm thankful for the skilled nurses that work with Hospice.

We couldn't afford, nor did we want my mom to stay in a hospital. We were able to care for her better at home, but there were plenty of times I felt helpless though. Something would go wrong, and we didn't know what to do. A nurse from hospice would come in like a one woman SWAT team and make things right again.

Hospice even had a couple people come to the funeral. At the end of the service, I stood with my brother and dad at the doors to the funeral home. Everyone lined up and shook our hands as they left, and we thanked them for coming. Out of all the friends and family I knew, those two strangers were the ones I felt obligated to thank the most.

I didn't know who they were, but I thanked them, and asked them to thank the rest of the nurses. It was all I could do not to burst into tears and hug them. Maybe I should have to show my appreciation, but then again that might have been awkward for them.

Hos"pice (?), n. [F., fr. L. hospitium hospitality, a place where strangers are entertained, fr. hospes stranger, guest. See Host a landlord.]

A convent or monastery which is also a place of refuge or entertainment for travelers on some difficult road or pass, as in the Alps; as, the Hospice of the Great St. Bernard.


© Webster 1913.

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