Life happens between an inhale and an exhale

Becky Hamilton has been a registered nurse with Hospice & Community Care for over twenty-five years.  Becky is a Veteran and our current longest serving Hospice employee, and she has had many wonderful and inspiring experiences as a hospice nurse.  As she prepares for retirement, she took some time to share some of her stories.

“Hospice is what I have always wanted to do,” explained Becky. “I was a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), and I knew you had to be a Registered Nurse (RN) to work for Hospice.  So I went to school and got my RN degree in May and started working for Hospice & Community Care in July 1993.  Before this, I worked for Home Health as an LPN and I always felt like I could do more for people at end-of-life.  I felt called to this work.  The opportunity to be with people at the end of life and experiencing what they are seeing and hearing.  It is a special thing to be allowed to be a part of that.  One of my patients was one of my teachers.  She was a tough instructor, and you could not pass her class if you weren’t good at the work.  She didn’t know who I was, and one day she asked me who taught me to be such a good nurse.  I smiled and told her ‘It was you.’  She cried, and we talked for a long time.” 

“When I first started working in nursing, I was in labor and delivery.  It is the same thing as birthing that baby into the world.  In hospice, you are caring for that patient, witnessing as they are born into the next world.  You help families, allow them to talk, and give them the means to say goodbye,” said Becky.  “Goodbyes are important.  I had one patient who was hanging on, and it occurred to me she waiting for her son.  I spoke to her daughter and told her that her mother was just waiting to speak to her brother.  She said well he can’t be here.  I asked if I could call him.  The next day her son called to talk to her, to say goodbye to her.  I told him that she couldn’t speak but that she was listening now.  She hadn’t responded to anything all day.  But as he spoke, she smiled and started trying to mouth something at the phone.  She could hear him and she responded to his voice.  I told him that his mother heard him and that she understood him.  She died the next day.”

“I have so many stories and memories from throughout the years.  One time I was caring for a gentleman.  The family was there.  He wanted so badly to stand up and so we helped him get up and then he collapsed.  We got him back in the bed, and he quit breathing.  He finally did take a deep breath and he looked at me.  He asked me ‘Did you see him?’ I asked him who?  He said, ‘He is standing right there.’ Everyone asked him who he saw.  ‘Jesus’ the man exclaimed as he pointed at the window.  At that moment there was a big red cardinal on the window, and it flew away. ”  

When asked what advice she would give nurses considering a career in hospice, Becky explained that you had to learn to take care of yourself too.  “Follow your heart, if it is meant to be it will be.  It takes a special feeling in your heart.  Nurses need to learn to take care of themselves too so they do not become burnt out.  Keep your boundaries while keeping the love.  Nurses tend to give too much and forget about themselves.”  Becky laughed self-deprecatingly at that statement.  “For example, I just had cataract surgery.  The doctor told me to take about a week off because he knew I would just return to work as usual rather than take it easy.  Of course, I had to force myself to follow his advice.” 

Becky explained that she chose Hospice & Community Care.  “At that time it was well-known and respected.  I knew this is where I belonged.”  With her retirement date approaching, Becky shared that she will continue to work part-time.  She believes she has much more to give, and a new appreciation for the challenges faced by caregivers.  “I gained a whole new respect for families and caregivers when I walked in their shoes.  I recently cared for my own husband at end-of-life, and I experienced just how hard it is.  Life truly is a circle.”  

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