The Magic of Hospice Found in Attentive Relationships

A special story about the magic of hospice
A special story about the magic of hospice

Meet a special resident from Vietnam

Finn came to the United States many years ago from Vietnam and settled into a modest life in the city. He had always been a private, independent man, but as he became more physically fragile, he was faced with a tough decision. He had no other choice but to rely on other people to meet his day-to-day needs. He entered hospice. Now 89 years old, Finn lives in one of our skilled nursing communities in Portland, Oregon.

Our caregivers quickly learned he is a Buddhist. Because of this, he has been reluctant to use comfort medications during hospice since opiates make it hard to maintain his spiritual clarity. The Signature Healthcare at Home team worked hard to find ways to reduce his pain, but he is naturally reserved and appears withdrawn during their visits. He speaks softly and prefers to keep his conversations to a minimum. When he does speak, he keeps his head bent and speaks softly. Finn’s silent ways challenged the team. Our caregivers needed to find the balance between comforting him and respecting his privacy.

One social worker makes a difference

Chanty Mapfumo had been Finn’s hospice social worker for several months. They have a positive, but quiet, relationship. She enjoys his company and sensed they shared a special connection. But she did not know the depth of his feelings until she treated him to a special Chinese meal.

Gifted Wishes sponsored Finn’s lunch at Chanty’s request. She surprised him with several carefully chosen dishes from a highly-rated Chinese restaurant. When she arrived, there was an obvious change in his demeanor. He sat up straighter and grinned from ear to ear. He was overwhelmed with her generosity, as well as the delicious aroma and the grand feast.

Her act of kindness put him at ease. Finn was talkative. He began to describe how her compassionate presence had given him a sense of belonging. He had never spoken about his feelings with her before. But that day, he said her soothing, gentle presence validated his life and his situation. He knew she held him in high esteem and cared with her full heart and soul. He told her she was one of the few people who “saw” him as a complete and complex person with individual joys, sorrows, hopes, and dreams. Her presence transformed him from being a shy, introverted man. Finn had gained a friend.

When Zen and hospice align

In many ways, hospice mimics Zen practice. Chanty’s example clearly demonstrates this. As this story unfolded, it aligned to a well-known Buddhist adage: “Zen takes no time, but it absorbs all our time.” This phrase means Zen-like kindness can arise in everyday, unconscious moments. Finn felt Chanty’s Zen spirit. His words remind us that our simplest actions hold the richest meaning.

Editor’s Note: Some names have been changed to protect the patient’s privacy.