Bonus Round Caregiver Pages
Promoting Wellness Through Patient/Caregiver Communications
The stories of HANNAH, a Hospice Social Worker

by Hannah*, a Hospice Social Worker

Tommy | Wayne | Susan | Jerry | Ohin *new!* |

I could start by talking about how I came to love and appreciate the field of social work.

Or I could start by describing how I got thrown into an oncology field placement when really I wanted to work in teen pregnancy.

Or I could talk about losing my very first patient.

Because, it's all connected really.  It all happened. And it all contributed to the decision I made to work for hospice.

I think that things have happened in my life for a reason.  Some days I wake up and wonder how I got here.  I see how the small decisions I made were not so small after all and the decisions I felt were huge turned into nothing, really.

I more or less stumbled into the medical field by mistake.  I liked the work, but felt I needed more in the area of counseling to be most effective, so I put my grad school energies into mental health.  Then I got my first real job in a dialysis* unit.  Slowly I became more confident.  Slowly I felt more effective.

Then my grandfather had a life threatening accident.

He was placed on life support following emergency surgery and was found to be brain dead.  He had a Living Will and the doctor was pretty much able to plan the event of his death around the time he would be removed from life support. It was more than my family could bear.

But I knew there was no place I needed to be more than right there with him as the machines were turned off.  I wanted to be with him.

What would seem to be a sad and dark time in my life turned into the most meaningful, rich, and sacred experience I had ever had.  It wasn't scary.  It was peaceful.  It didn't feel wrong or awkward, but very right.  Very natural.

And as my grandmother, my aunts and my grandfather's sister hesitated before timidly entering the room, I was able to give them comfort and strength because I was able to communicate with them, love them, and teach them.

I carefully explained what the machines were and what they did. I found myself able to prepare them for what would happen as the machines were turned off; to demonstrate how to be "present" with dying.  My grandfather was teaching me these things even as he lay still, unable to do anything else.

When I was approached 2 and a half years ago about a job with hospice, I decided to take it, not because I was unhappy with my work in dialysis, but because it felt right to me.  I knew it was what I needed to do.

And the more I learn from the people I meet, the more it becomes clear to me that my job is not to search for the issues, for things to "fix" or things to "analyze", but to simply listen.  I learn the power of healing simply in the telling of the story.

I'm reminded of Victor Frankl, who speaks of Man's Search for Meaning.  Each person I meet becomes a partner with me in this search.

I honor my patients by remembering them.  I also heal and rejuvenate myself by telling their stories because I realize, in the telling, they are my stories too.


Note from Steve: In these stories we will refer to the place where Hannah works as "Hospice House" but hospice care is not confined to a specific building; it's a philosophy of care which can be implemented anywhere.

Tommy's Story | Wayne

*Names, dates and locations in Hannah's story have been changed to protect patient privacy. These stories are offered to the reader as part of the ongoing patient/caregiver education & communications program at All materials © 2000 by "Hannah". (