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Day 26: Angels in the Workplace

November 26, 2011

By Sharon Cooper, M.Ed., Media Consultant, Hospice of St John

I glanced up from my note taking to look at the woman I was interviewing for the Hospice of Saint John’s 2012 video, noticing how radiant her face had become. As she continued to relay patient care stories, she grew less aware of my presence or that of the cameraman who was recording the moment.

I was fascinated while watching her expression, the byproduct of her hospice experiences. Her half-smile reflected a calm satisfaction and an inner peace – clearly a result of her ability to be emotionally present with her patients.

Terry Semones, RN, BSN., Director of Home Hospice Services, having worked at the Hospice of Saint John since 1996 and now in a leadership role, hopes her job satisfaction will set an example for all those she trains and supervises. Terry’s attitude not only impacts the nurses at our Hospice but also extends to all members of the care team, including Physicians, Nursing, Dietary, Pastoral Care, Integrative Therapists, Pharmacy, Volunteers, Activities and Social Workers. Would I want someone like Terry, who is so genuinely involved in her work, to care for someone I love? Absolutely!

Those who choose to work or volunteer in a hospice are not “wired” the same as people who select other lines of work. Front line caregivers are drawn to this environment because there is no other job where they can extend their whole heart to patients and their loved ones while filling their own with more heartwarming emotion than ever imaginable. These are the people who stretch far beyond their job descriptions without being asked to do so.

I was awestruck seeing how Terry’s face glowed with a sense of happiness, appreciation and job satisfaction. While I reminded myself to stay on task, I could not keep my thoughts from drifting to thinking about being at the core of a patient’s existence at one of the most special times in life. Caregivers are inherently unique.

This uniqueness must be why it’s the norm for the Hospice of Saint John to celebrate patients’ weddings. Those who remember our Founder, the late Father Paul von Lobkowitz, O.S.J., recall tender memories of his stitching lace veils for hospice brides. That uniqueness must be why we take for granted our celebrations of life parties, legacy recordings and photographic memory moments in our gardens among other special events for patients. These events are all in the course of a day for us.

Also beyond the ordinary is the story of Bob, a 97-year-old patient and Rose, also in her 90s. Admitted as strangers, they soon fell in love. On the day he was admitted, Bob told his son he was “ready to die.” Yet months later, our staff held a party for Bob so could do the two-step with his new friend Rose. Neither expected to find love at this time yet both did at our Hospice. Bob said of Rose, “She’s my history. It is a short but important history.”

They all are a collection of short stories. These are short but intense opportunities for staff to be at the center of a patient’s existence, helping when there is no more special time than this one.

Perhaps our philosophy that life is precious was what motivated another of our patients – Rudy – to take up painting again and teach art class in hospice until his heart gave out.

Our patients feel hope when they come home to the Hospice of Saint John. Our staff welcomes them home, knowing they have another chance to make all the difference – whether loved ones are involved or if the patient is alone. We are their home and we are the patient’s family.

As the second free – standing hospice to be established in the United States, the Hospice of Saint John in Lakewood, Colorado is a program of care provided in our own facility, in nursing homes and assisted living residences or in patients’ homes – essentially care is provided anywhere patients call “home.”

For over 34 years, we have worked hard to earn our reputation of providing care for those who need hospice, including those who have little or no resources. Several of our program offerings are not reimbursable, yet we continue to proudly provide these services as part of our ongoing mission. This is not just the philosophy of those in management but this commitment is shared throughout the Hospice, giving our family of staff and volunteers a sense of pride, accomplishment and the joy of giving as few other occupations can.

It starts from the top and filters throughout. While one patient was being admitted, a teary-eyed loved one turned to Director of Clinical Services, Bridget Darden, MAOM, BSN, RN, and in a shaky voice asked her, “What keeps you in hospice work?

“Holding a hand,” Bridget answered, “It’s the most important thing I can do when someone is scared and doesn’t know what’s going on. I can help fill a loved one’s end- of- life experience with love. I can be there for patients when there are tears or when the transition time is near. I help parents, siblings, relatives or other relationships heal with the knowledge that each patient is comforted, loved, valued and cared for with well-deserved dignity. I work hard to be a healing presence in the lives of strangers, knowing that at any time I might have helped in ways that can never be acknowledged.”

Working in a hospice is the true giving experience where an authentic presence reigns and happiness comes from being a part of what’s real in life. Going back to my task at hand, I hoped both the video and this blog would do justice to telling their important, heartfelt story of caregiving at the Hospice of Saint John.


Hospice of St. John Website: www.hospiceofstjohn.org

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Day 26: Angels in the Workplace by Sharon Cooper, M.Ed., Media Consultant, Hospice of St John is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.