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Is It Depressing to Work at Hospice?

Is it depressing to work at hospice? As a music therapist specializing in hospice I've been asked this question many times before. I can understand why people may think that hospice work must be sad and depressing. In their minds hospice suggests a place of death.

But hospice is not a place. It's a type of care provided for people with terminal illnesses and their loved ones. The goal is to offer them not only medical care but also emotional and spiritual support so that people can have peace, comfort, and dignity at the end of life. Hospice is about caring, not curing.

In hospice we don't consider death to be a medical failure but a stage of life each of us will pass. Helping people die is much like helping babies to be born, because both are natural parts of life.

A friend of mine who is an ER doctor once told me about the weekly meeting he has to attend called "morbidity and mortality." During the meeting his team discusses the illnesses and the deaths of patients from that week. The cases involving death are looked at carefully so as to prevent them from happening again. In the eyes of an ER team death is a failure, even though some deaths are inevitable.

My friend and I have come to a conclusion that his work as an ER doctor focuses more on death than my work as a hospice music therapist. When we acknowledge that death is a natural, unavoidable, and at times a welcomed transition, the focus of care shifts from death to life: It's no longer about how to prevent people from dying but how to help them live their remaining time well.

So hospice care is about living, because dying is a part of living.

A vibrant lady in her early 50's who was dying from cancer once told me, "My life has been an adventure, and death is just another adventure to me. I am ready for the new adventure now."

To be a part of people's lives at the time of transition is a mysterious, humbling, and powerful experience. Hospice work has not been depressing at all but an incredible journey that taught me about life.

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