A few years back, my buddy and I attended an Eagles Concert. You know the band from Southern California I am sure. Their lyrics were the script of our life and their music became iconic themes during pivotal moments . It’s hard not to sing along to favorites such as Hotel California, Desperado, and Life in the Fast Lane. Our record players played them a lot. Radio was never the same.
On opening night of their second leg of the tour, my friend Mark and I were surrounded with thousands of fans at the Kansas City, MO Sprint Center when co-founder Glenn Frey started off his song “Take it easy” with these words: “maybe we all take it easy”. The guitar strum took it from there. The crowd went wild and sang along.
“Go to work, don’t live there.”
Maybe he is right. Maybe in order to stay in the game of life- hospice life- we need to take it easy- on ourselves.
I’ve served as a hospice spiritual care leader and/or chaplain and now as a presenter and facilitator in grief and bereavement work for almost 10 years. By far- the most neglected trait of hospice workers is self-care. Don’t we know that without proper care to ourselves- we may not have much to give? Isn’t it important to remember that if we are not fueled up, we won’t be able to “make it”? Isnt it true that if we don’t get filled up, we won’t be able to pour out anything?
There has been times when I ignored the fine line of balance in work, demands, expectations, stress, family, physical stamina, emotional pulls, and spiritual stability- and regretted it immensely. I wish I could say I learned my lesson after one miss- but it’s not been the case. I’ve had to have several reminders. We’ve all been there haven’t we?
Please allow this offering of encouragement to spark your imagination and purposely direct you to “take it easy” on yourself. (Enter guitar riff of your choice here)
1 – Get focused on your mission. Some of us walk into hospice work casually and do not understand the schedule; high organizational skills needed, we might have unresolved issues from our previous employers, etc. Others think that “anyone could do this”. Most of us spend a lot of time trying to find out about life and very little time enjoying our life. I encourage you to stop and discover what your life is designed for, how to live a great life, and purposely drive forward in it. This focused life will be more beneficial than anything else on this list.
2 – Surround yourself with positive and encouraging friends. My kids will tell you that I have sounded like a broken record (playing over and over again) when I tell them that “bad company corrupts good character”. Its true. Case in point: remember that one relationship that you are glad you exited? Think of that moment and what your life was becoming as you were coming to terms with relating to them… I know you can see it now. Hospice workers are no different.
Seek out carefully those you sit around. Consider who you associate with – making sure that you are not being drawn into a web of negativity, debate, becoming lazy and apathetic. Take special care of who you allow into your life- they speak louder than you might imagine. I urge you to gravitate towards those who will lift you up, see you as a major contributor, and want to see you succeed.
3 – Retreat. Vacation. Staycation. Getaway. Ask any teacher, building inspector, plumber, or secretary and they will all tell you “going to work is part of this life but I really enjoy my days off”. We enjoy being away from our job because we like to be with our family, loved ones, do the things our heart strings are pulled for, etc. May I suggest that this retreating is part of our work. Whenever we can break from routines to rejuvenate our life is a really good thing. Go ahead… look at your company’s policy on taking time off and schedule it into action.
4 – VIP: You go to work… you don’t live there! One of the biggest compliments a hospice worker receives is “you have always been there for me” or “thank you for always being available”. While this seems nice and encouraging – it should be a red flag! It’s actually dangerous. When you and I inform specifically or give an impression that we will personally respond to every call, text, email, etc. we open ourselves up to failure. We cannot be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You might be thinking that it has to be this way because “no one can do the kind of job I can do”.
Hear this hospice warrior: we are replaceable. Go to work, don’t live there. Take up boundaries for yourself. Set up limitations for you to leave work at the end of your shift. Be careful about taking work home or agree to take too many extra shifts. You work hard as a hospice employee so try to power off from work related electronic devices too. Take your well-deserved time off and celebrate your life.
5 – Eat well. My friends always tell me that I am planning my week around my lunch. Although this is not true, I do enjoy eating. My family is like this too. Here is my point, taking time to eat and to eat healthy is incredibly important to our work as hospice heroes. Yes we are on the road. Yes we have patients to see that need to be seen during lunch hours. Yes we have emergencies that need our attention. Yes there are days when we don’t have time to stop and catch our breath. But eating out of a sack every day is dangerous.
Taking care of yourself means eating right. Bring a salad from home (save money too). Grab a Subway and stop at a park or near an outdoor water fountain and enjoy your lunch. Enjoy a cup of chili at a favorite dine in place. You’ll be in and out in 30 minutes- just in time to take care of the work load. Most importantly, you’ll be refreshed and refueled.
6 – Exercise. Whenever I am walking, biking, running, going to the gym, etc., I always feel more apt to take on the world. I feel better when I am active. As hospice workers seeing patients, we are on our feet all day long. We are active but we are not the kind of active I am talking about here. I am suggesting that we become whole body active. When you have nothing in your hands, no shoulder strap with a 20 lb nursing bag or briefcase we are able to walk naturally and burn more calories. With this freedom, we work on important muscle groups that don’t get worked on at work. This activity as well as putting in our favorite music or just listening to the silence while we walk, swim, bike, yoga, or whatever… really does make us more effective. Try it. You’ll like the way you feel.
7 – Sign up to enhance your career. A few years ago I made up my mind to become a life-long learner. I began looking at classes that I might enjoy so that I could become more effective and efficient as a chaplain. Without seemingly to be arrogant, I felt like I was at the front of my class. When we learn and put into practice our learning, it brings out a sense of accomplishment. No pride here- just pure know how. Developing your skills has benefits too: a possible raise or promotion, becoming an expert with certain kinds of disease processes, grief and bereavement support, family meetings, and/or public policy. And that’s just the tip of the ice berg Suggestion: invest in a 3 session series of a life coach. (it may be part of your Employee Assistance Program)
8 – Initiate yourself in or with a committee at work. Using your talents and skills as a hospice worker to better peoples comfort is wonderful. Go one step further by enhancing the company program and you’ll have more impact. I once knew a nurse who had an excellent bedside manner and began to train first time hospice nurses that same technique using the agencies apprentice model.
What this nurse did for the company was increase their response time, secure better quality ratings while attending deaths, and more efficient time management skills. It was a game changer for the hospice and the nurse felt a sense of accomplishment in her work. The new nurses felt more equipped to perform. Everyone wins. Join a committee today.
9 – Treat yourself to something special. I love to encourage others to spend their money and time wisely. Paying bills, living within their means, securing security in retirement is very important. But I also say to those same individuals to spend a little on yourself. The small reward for a good job can go along way. Do you need suggestions? A nursing bag with cool and nifty pockets, a backpack that costs a little bit more but handles the job and doesn’t look like a high school gym bag, a new stethoscope that has your favorite color, a pair of really comfy shoes, a holiday scrubs outfit, an electronic device or app that is “perfect” for staying organized.
10 – Ask for an evaluation. This may not sound very encouraging but it should. Seeking out feedback from our supervisors is really a good thing. Find out if there is a plan in place to help you schedule these- and put it on your calendar. Gain insights from these supervisory meetings by asking questions about what the job expectations are and how they might have changed since your hire date.
Find out how to increase your productivity with quality being a standard of excellence. Ask if you would be able to shadow someone in your field of hospice work. Look for an opportunity to meet with the owners of the agency to discover how they started and what core values are in place to rise to leadership or in the field. Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Taking it easy on ourselves and becoming balanced, whole, and enriched with these types of qualities can really bring about a sense of value to you as a hospice worker. Go ahead, “take it easy”.
Thank you for doing what you: loving people at the end of their lives. Thank you for sharing your heart, skills, and life with those who are struggling to make sense of it all. Thank you for working together as a team to insure that all their needs are being met. Thank you for paying close attention to the details of their medicine, support, family dynamics, and overall values of their life. Thank you for advocating for them and not necessarily your own agenda. Thank you for documenting correctly, being on time at visits, and working together with other entities to take care of patients and their families. You are making a difference. Thank you!
Be encouraged today! You are a hero! You are a warrior! You are a Hospice Worker!