Don’t Skirt the Serious Stuff

“I’m alive,” my hospice client answers after I ask him how he is today.

I find myself at a crossroads. Do I take an easy out or lean in? I could keep it light and respond with a smile and some humor, e.g., “I can see that.” Or, I could ask if there’s more he wants to say. I could invite him to explore whatever is beneath those two words.

Is there gratitude? Likely not with this particularly grumpy guy, but I always try to leave space for surprises.

Is there hope? Does he have an idea or request for our visit today? Maybe he’ll take me up on that offer to create more gifts or letters for his loved ones. Maybe he wants to continue to reminisce about treasured camping trips or the research he conducted in his younger years.

Is there frustration? Was he disappointed to wake up this morning (assuming he even slept)? Is he reaching the point of being “done” with this existence? The discomfort? These tubes? This body whose systems are slowly, persistently failing? The view of this one room from this one chair, day after day, week after week, month after month?

I summon the courage to lean in, bracing myself for what might surface. Anger? Tears? Relief?

“How is that for you today?” I respond.

He looks slightly stunned. I hold silence while my questions registers. It’s now his turn to choose the way. He leads; I journey alongside.

He shrugs and grunts, “eh.”

That’s it. “Eh.” And, that’s fine. This is his time. We’re on his clock. I have no agenda. He knows I’m here, ears primed, ready to circle back if and when he decides to venture.

This is what it means to me to be a doula. I plant seeds. I open doors. I extend standing invitations. Yet, I don’t direct. Instead, I allow. This means that some days, a client might divulge deep yearnings or fears, while other days, nothing more than a nod. From my vantage, providing opportunities for self-determination far outweighs all else I can offer.

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