By Greg Schmidt, hospice chaplain
One recurring discussion I find myself in involves what it takes to work on a hospice team. The conclusion generally has something to do with understanding the difference between “a calling” and “just looking for a job.” Why is that important? Because how you view what it is you do rises and falls with the way you choose to view those for whom you care. Some people are fine with punching the clock. Others want what they do to make a difference in the lives of those for whom they care. For the latter, “being authentic” or “keeping it real” or “truly caring for and loving others” is all that matters.
When it comes to “being real” with the giving and receiving of compassionate caring, I love the discussion that happens between the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit in Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit.
“It [being real] doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You … become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I believe the Skin Horse captures the essence of the conundrum. If your feelings get hurt too often or too easily, or if you are defensive and respond with harsh attitudes, actions or words to the challenges that come your way (and they ALWAYS will!); or if you feel the need to be pampered (because you want the “glory”), then this isn’t the job for you. Why? Because those who are sick and dying – as well as those who are watching their loved ones decline right before their eyes – don’t have the time or energy to worry about you, too. And quite frankly, they shouldn’t have to. They should be given the time and freedom to consider only the needs of the sick and dying and/or their own response to what they are witnessing. They need you to have a calling to caregiving. They need you to see their loved ones as “real.” They need you to be one of those who “understand.”
The point? If you are willing to enter low, be humble, and live solely as a servant to the needs of those you meet while at work, THEN you can become “real” to those you serve. And, as the Skin Horse says, “once you are Real, you can’t be ugly” to those being served. How does that happen? Because love ALWAYS “covers” whatever it touches. Love creates both a “bond” and a “barrier” in which those who receive it can pursue life in complete freedom and with complete grace (i.e., “unmerited favor”).
I love also these words of Jesus: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13).
Here’s what I believe should be the bottom line statement for every Heart & Soul Hospice employee (and the employees of EVERY hospice, for that matter): Because of my calling to both my faith and my hospice team, I will give myself daily to touching the lives of those we serve in the name of Christ with my heart, mind, soul, and strength. We begin every single workday by saying our vision statement together: “To provide compassionate, end-of-life care, guided by Christian values.” What drives us is the goal to provide the best possible day – today – to everyone for which we care. What drives that goal is our mission. And what drives our mission is Jesus.
Here’s a suggestion: Live today as though it’s YOUR last. Give away the love you’ve already received from above. As my Methodist friends have taught me, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good!” So, be authentic. Keep it real. Do good to those around you.