Over the years friends have asked me why I spend so much time on matters related to hospice, dying, and death when we are here to live life. My reply has evolved into this: hospice care while dying offers living the best life possible until death arrives. People giving or receiving hospice care inspires me to live a better life. “I” is for Inspiration in our Wellness ABC’s for many reasons most importantly perhaps is that it means to breathe; breath is life. There are many benefits to a deep, conscious, relaxing breath. Before you continue reading this post, pause for a moment and try it! Maybe take three deep breaths and see what that feels like. Is your body a little more relaxed? Your mind a little more focused? Excellent! Let’s dive in.
Inspiration comes from the Latin root word “spir” which literally means “to breathe.” More figurative meanings include: “to breathe into; infuse animate, influence, affect, guide or inflame.” The website Membean offers tree and root visuals to help us learn about root words and the words that derive from those roots. For example, from the root word “spir” comes “spirited” meaning to display animation, vigor, or liveliness. Membean describes “inspiration” as arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity. In the 16th century, there was a theological Middle English meaning including: “breathe or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to the human soul.” Today’s modern meaning is about something or someone that encourages new ideas, actions, or creativity.
Inspiration as a wellness practice is tricky territory because sometimes when we intentionally seek it out, it does not appear. The practice of patience comes in handy when that happens. Other times, when we are not really looking to be inspired, it appears in full regalia! The beauty of a the night sky or the smell of the earth after a rainstorm can be a happily surprising inspiration to breathe a little deeper, relax, or linger a bit longer in the moment. Watching an Olympic athlete accomplish a perfect routine may inspire us to become more fit and healthy. If you are feeling down, listening to music can uplift and inspire a change in mood. Some folks find inspiration through their religious or spiritual practices. Watching a great film, like The Map of Tiny Perfect Things can inspire you to look, and really see the tiny miracles happening every moment. In what ways do you look for inspiration?
Witnessing an act of courage or selflessness can also inspire. If we are clear-eyed and alert, we can recognize such moments and consciously take inspired action. There are occasions when inspirational moments sneak up on us or go unnoticed. Sometimes when this happens, they take root, and move us, almost as if by magic, toward creativity, happiness, better health, or acts of kindness.
A recent more immediately recognized inspirational moment for me arrived as I listened to the National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb” during President Biden’s inaugural event. The candor and poise of this young woman as she delivered this poem inspired me to remember that as a nation, we can rise to grace. Her closing words, There is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it; if only we’re brave enough to be it, inspired tears, and a sense of optimism that I had not been feeling for some time.
In 2020 I was repeatedly amazed and inspired by friends who serve as first responders, doctors, nurses, and caregivers. They continued to show up for patients in the face of such desperate suffering; they themselves facing the threat of serious illness or death. They held the hands of dying patients, donned uncomfortable and sometimes overly worn out personal protective equipment time after time to attend to patients who were unable to breathe on their own, speak or move. They tended to emergency room visits; moms giving birth without their partners; life-saving surgeries, and non-covid hospice patients. They lived in quarantine, away from those at home, to keep their families safe. They faced harassment and ridicule from some who thought the virus was not real. They did not think of themselves as “courageous”; they were just doing their jobs.
Lauren Leander is a critical care nurse who stood with other nurses in silence during a Phoenix, Arizona stay-at-home protest early in the pandemic. Lauren made national news as a voice for her patients on ventilators and dying alone. Her statements helped many to understand that the impact on our healthcare facilities was reason enough to stay safe at home. To me, this was a display of immeasurable courage. Fast forward a few weeks and we discovered that Lauren and her colleagues had created a Go Fund Me page to raise money assisting the Navajo nation to meet their pandemic response needs. Their page inspired donors to give $289,099 to assist people experiencing devastating losses.
Another inspiration was Hannah Gingell, a young critical care nurse trainee in England. During her break, and hopeful to raise spirits during such dark times, Hannah went to the piano and sang “Rise Up” in the hospital lounge. This went viral quickly (no pun intended) and raised many spirits. If you liked Hannah’s version, please watch the song’s creator, Andra Day in this montage depicting some of our healthcare personnel during the pandemic. The photos show the immense fortitude of our medical workers. They are smiling beneath their PPE, dancing, serving others in the face of great difficulty. They inspired me to keep looking for the light that Amanda Gorman assures us is there if we are brave enough to see it, and to be it.
In closing this post, I have to say that I did not expect to be inspired during my first hospice experience. In hindsight, I don’t know that I had the time or the awareness to anticipate or expect anything. After a year of hoping for the miracle cure that did not appear, hospice was dropped into my friend, Wayne’s life, unwelcomed, unannounced, unanticipated. If I had to name an expectation upon entry to hospice territory, it might have been that I would helplessly watch my friend die, and then be devastated by the loss. That is not what happened. We were fully supported by hospice staff and while it was not all easy, we were inspired every day by their steady supportive compassion. We were more inspired by Wayne’s courage, awareness, and dignity during that time. I emerged from the hospice experience empowered by the immeasurable lessons about living life that came from helping Wayne to make his every last moment count. Wishing you inspiration today.