Claire Richardson

Living and Growing: At hospice we have an answer to Barbie’s tough question

My favorite part of the blockbuster movie “Barbie” is when the first big pink dance number is in full swing and Barbie chirps, “You guys ever think about dying?!” The music comes to a screeching halt with all the Barbies and Kens frozen, aghast at the question.

The audience laughed out loud.

But in real life, most of us would freeze as well — because talking about death is taboo in a feel good, look good, be-ever-youthful-party culture.

But many people, perhaps even you, do want to explore issues surrounding the inevitable end of life. How we connect with our fears, grief and curiosity can take many forms. Some people read about it, some write about it, some pray about it, some talk about it, and some contemplate it by immersing themselves in nature and in silence.

As a caring community we can offer various pathways to meet your desire to explore end-of-life issues. The new Bartlett Home Care and Hospice department is one way we are reaching out.

The spiritual care of our friends, family and neighbors as they face their own death or the death of a loved one is an integral part of the hospice model. Meeting people where they are in their journey requires not only compassion, but also a listening heart.

The interdisciplinary, collaborative hospice model means professional spiritual carers are part of the team that works with a patient until death and then provides continued grief support to their loved ones for the following 13 months.

I know from personal experience that hospice can be an invaluable support. My hospice internship in London opened my eyes to the way hospice has been integrated into the medical model of care across England for more than 60 years. Hospice care and education is the rule, not the exception in that country. The patients were encouraged to play an active role in their journey and to see the importance of addressing the whole person, not just their medical condition. It was empowering for them and for the hospice team.

When my husband was diagnosed in 2014 with the incurable disease, ALS, I knew hospice would be an important part of his care. His wish was to die at home. And thanks to hospice he was surrounded by his children, two hospice nurses and his beloved dog when he left this world in January 2017. Hospice was with us every step of the challenging, joyous, holy, terrifying, loving journey.

The new Bartlett hospice will slowly ramp up over the next few months. Your part-time chaplains are longtime Juneau residents, Tim Spengler and me. We are here to listen. To everyone. Whether you are religious. Or not. We can be companions on your journey and be there for your loved ones when you are gone.

Barbie asked if anyone thought about dying. It garnered a lot of laughs. But the serious answer is we do. And we look forward to being part of this vibrant, local hospice team serving and learning from you and your family.

If you would like to learn more, contact Bartlett Home Care and Hospice at (907) 796-8160. The community is also welcome to an open house from 4-6 p.m., Thursday, August 24 in the atrium of Bartlett Regional Hospital.

• Claire Richardson earned her Masters in Pastoral Studies from Seattle University which included an internship at St. Christopher’s Hospice in London. She also served as a Bartlett volunteer chaplain 2004-2012 and served on Juneau’s Foundation for End of Life Care board for many years.

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