This last week I did a one-day rotation with a Hospice Nurse. Hospice care is "any form of medical care or treatment that concentrates on reducing the severity of the symptoms of a disease or slows its progress rather than providing a cure" (Wikipedia).
Our first visit of the day was to a patient who had passed on just one hour before our arrival.
I had never seen a dead person up close before.
She was in her 70's, a dignified looking woman who was clean and well-cared for. Her passing was peaceful, while she was sleeping, with her family nearby. Advanced breast cancer was the official cause of death.
In death her mouth slacked open like a trap door, as if her soul had escaped from that orifice.
After consoling the family, the Hospice nurse began the woman's post-mortem bath. I held up this woman's legs and turned her side-to-side while the nurse lovingly, gently washed her entire body.
She was still warm. A little air escaped her mouth when I turned her, making a groaning noise.
We dressed her in her favorite pajamas and the Nurse arranged her body just so: arms nestled in her lap, legs straight, head propped up on pillows. She looked as if she might be just resting, ready for someone to visit.
Then we waited with the family for the mortuary to arrive. They were eating fried chicken in the living room and some were crying while they ate. The smell of grease from the fried chicken mingled with images of this dead woman in her bed; it was surreal.
The mortuary workers came and took her away. Then we left.
I was impressed with the professionalism and respect that the Hospice Nurse had for this woman and her family. The family was grateful for her and for the gift of Hospice: A dignified, supported death at home.
To learn more about Hospice, Death and Dying visit Death Maiden.