On a sunny September morning, Debbie Robson, Executive Director of the Hospice Care of the West, and I swung open the doors and welcomed each member of the hospice team to the Celebration! We invited each person to write the name of someone they want to remember on a stone and lay it on the table set up like an alter. Check out the video that captures the spirit of the event!
One of the hospice home health aides said to me as she picked up a stone, “There are so many I want to remember.” I smiled realizing that is one of the reasons we created this ritual to help these folks on the front lines of end-of-life care to pause and reflect on patients they cared for in the last days of life. This is a truly honorable work and must be marked with ritual, celebration what I now deem a tradition for the hospice.
As I met the 90-member strong team in the hall, I greeted them and Deb shared good news of the census jumping up to its peak after our first Celebration! Then I interjected saying we have a lot to celebrate announcing the news of receiving Outstanding Program Achievement Award honored by the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association (CHAPCA). Everyone in the room gasped in unison! It was so fantastic to see.
I then asked each one to think about one word that describes you. Gemma Heffernan, our veteran social worker, suggested that “resilient” described her best. Since I wrote her living eulogy, I agreed. Then I asked them each to share that word with the person next to them. I could feel the invigoration in the room as each person celebrated his or her own soul. The aim for Celebration is renew the spirit so we can continue our mission of providing exceptional end-of-life care and understand intuitively how to celebrate the lives of our patients.
At the first Celebration, our resident documentary filmmaker, Jay Gianukos filmed some the nurses in a Reminiscing Corner. We played the video at the Celebration. It was a remarkable tribute to the 32 nurses that blanket Orange County and Los Angeles County providing exceptional hospice care. See the video below.
I then read a living eulogy about Dave Boyle, the resident spiritual care coordinator. I’ve known Dave for about six years now, but our interview for the living eulogy opened a window into his soul that I had never known about until now. I had the honor of sharing that personal triumph with the hospice team to celebrate his life. Click here to read his eulogy
I opened the microphone up to the team. It was electric in the room as nurses stood to thank home health aides, and hospice consultants shined the spotlight on the office support staff, spiritual care coordinators shared stories of seeing such wonderful care given by the nurses. The microphone just rotated around the room filled with praise as they empowered and thanked each other for the amazing teamwork. I want to especially thank Deb Patricio, Director of Clinical Care, for reading the letters that patients’ families had written about the care nurses gave to their mother or father in the final days of life. These were so moving and energizing. I also want to thank Heidi Gonzalez, Hospice Consultant, for sharing the unbelievably beautiful story of the sailor who wished to die on his boat with accompanied by his wife and dog. The hospital didn’t want to release this patient to go home because they knew he would not make it. Yet, he and his wife wanted to try. Heidi and the team at Hospice Care of the West helped him get off of the machines at the hospital, where he was expected to die and board an ambulance who drove him to the dock in Long Beach. He boarded his boat safe and sound. Not too long after, took his last breath of life on his boat, in the company of his wife and dog just as he wished. As tears poured from my eyes and many others in the hall, I told Heidi and the team that story exemplifies why we do what
we do to make those last wishes come true for patients. These stories remind us why we wake up every day and continue to thrive to make life better for our patients. I’m so grateful to the team for our second, very successful Celebration!