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The Dance of Head and Heart

Lately I have been reflecting on my journey in hospice and end of life care which now spans decades. Truly did not in any way plan to have this as a life path when it first appeared, in my early thirties, as what I would consider to be an “invitation”.


One serendipitous event after another aligned “calling” me to this work in unexpected ways. At the time, it was the last thing I considered doing! Honestly! Yet my curiosity eventually ended up overriding the fear. I now consider it to be a profound gift which has enhanced my experience of life and its tremendous depth.


We don’t generally think of befriending the subject of death, dying and grief as a gift but like anything that is feared, once embraced (rather than avoided) it can be transformed. With courage to step in, the fear often loosens its grip and a new perspective emerges. Anxieties can soften and, in many cases, a greater trust in the unknown discovered.


It does not mean that facing death is always easy or without its challenges, but neither is giving birth to a baby for a new mother, yet women do it time and time again knowing new life will ensue! The newborn’s arrival makes it all worth while. Even the sleepless nights and heightened demands that are part of a new life being fostered somehow are welcomed and adapted to by the parents and loved ones.


Many have said that death is also a birthing. After all these years I would agree. With that last breath something ends, and a new cycle of life begins. Though unlike the experience of a newborn arriving we don’t have a full view of what to expect. Some will say when we die there is nothing. Others that it is a new start and journey into unknown invisible realms. The mystery of it all never ceases to amaze me. Any transition in life in which we can’t see or yet imagine the outcome can stir discomfort. Our survival instincts on high alert.


Yet beauty, grace and love can be found in even the most challenging of circumstances if you open your heart and being to it.


Thinking back to the initial years of this work, once immersed in the experience, the greatest qualities required were not learned from a textbook. Rather through the hands-on experience at the bedside and our shared humanity. Love, patience, and compassionate presence key. Simple acts of kindness powerful beyond measure.


With each encounter, knowing that the outcome is inevitable, every moment becomes heightened with the one you are serving. Never knowing if you will see them again. Listening, truly listening is an art asking for continued refinement. As with life itself, there is an awareness that each moment will never be captured in the same way again.


Health care professionals often can become challenged when they move too much into their heads and lose connection to their own hearts in the work. This can then flow over into their personal lives. It does take conscious effort but is well worth it both professionally and personally to keep the heart open and curious. Mystery is at play at every turn if you are open to its whisper.


Centuries ago, when we didn’t have the scientific advances in medicine that we do today who did people look to for support? Inevitably the ones they knew could be trusted with their vulnerability. The same applies today in the final hours of life and in grief. The gems are individuals who will accept us at our worst and still love us through it all. Not run away, detach, or dismiss rather somehow hold space for us in our vulnerability in the most compassionate and loving ways.


The question to ask yourself then is do you lead with head or heart?


As mentioned, we are blessed now with new information, technologies to guide treatments and outcomes but if the heart is not engaged our very presence can be perceived as cold and distant.


An artful balance indeed.


Let us not forget the power of the heart in life and lead with its gifts.


Love’s essence is felt profoundly and leaves a lasting impression for all those it is blessed to touch.



Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

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