Suzette Martinez Standring: Hospice is perfect love
Recently I toured and cooked in Sicily with a group of 11 strangers. We touched 1,000-year-old olive trees, stirred sauces and kneaded pasta dough. From the ancient town of Erice, I watched the Mediterranean sparkle 3,000 feet below. We are exploring Sicily as much as each other’s lives, and Lorraine Schinelli of Scituate, Mass., is a hospice nurse.
It was day’s end and the skies turned purple, pink and gold over the salt flats of Trapani. Lorraine, at 49, has large, soulful eyes. I like her because in a group she bounces the conversation ball around. Her humor makes everyone feel special and included.
In her job what is it like to hold somebody’s hand to the very end, week after week, year after year? I’ve met hospice volunteers in the past, but never a full-time professional. The volunteers exuded a larger than life zest for living, and their compassion quotients were high. But ask everyday folks of their impressions of hospice workers, and many would shudder. I’ve heard some wonder if it takes a macabre bent of mind to work so closely with death.
“I wish I had a tiny camera on my shoulder so people could understand this job. It’s really beautiful,” Lorraine said. There is an intimacy that happens when patients speak their hearts and unburden their souls. It takes time to gain that trust, but when they are ready, so is she.
A hospice team works with a patient’s caregivers, giving instruction, clinical assessments, correct medications, and support, to help a patient remain pain-free. Lorraine said, “In fact I will make a promise to people that when it is time to make the transition from life to death it will be comfortable, peaceful and pain free. If I do my job right my patients do not have pain. Emotional pain is a little trickier and takes time and trust to overcome.” Lorraine has been a medical nurse for 27 years, eight of them devoted to hospice work.
A peaceful surrender in dying is ideal. She observes that religion and a belief in an afterlife can make the transition easier because the patient has hope. Yet there are times when religion can rob a person of inner peace. It’s rare, but she has been with those who focus on guilt and punishment. Such a person is so fearful of going to hell.
That uncommon circumstance makes her sad. It’s such a twisted view of God who is perfect love because in the Bible, 1 John 4:18-19 reads, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”
Perfect love sent someone like Lorraine to be with folks at their very last.