Working as a hospice nurse for the past 12 years has exposed me to many different cultural and religious traditions as I complete the emotional task of pronouncing my patients and offering support to their loved ones.
Each time I complete this ritual, I am introduced to those wonderful memories shared by the families and caregivers of the now departed. Included are the cultural norms of the families and loved ones including spiritual and ethnic traditions. Certain prayers are recited. Special foods are prepared. There are comforting conversations that take place between the families, caregivers, and loved ones reliving the life experiences each of them had with their loved one who has just passed away.
I remember pronouncing a patient who was originally from Palermo, Italy. When I entered the home, I was greeted by the patient’s son. He escorted me to the bedroom where my patient was lying in his bed. I listened to his heart and determined he had passed away. His entire family, including his wife and children immediately began prayers —The Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. Before I knew it, the home suddenly became filled with more than twenty people. Some arrived with pastries and cakes. Others with sandwiches. I remember smelling the wonderful aroma of fresh tomatoes and garlic. This tradition of offering food and traditional culinary delight is very common in the Italian culture. Along with all the food and drink, the extended family and friends began recalling their memories of the loved one who had just passed.
My book, WARM WATER: The Last Act of Compassion, is a collection of vignettes describing the interconnectedness between the patient, their loved ones and the hospice nurse. Each chapter is a separate and interesting tale highlighting the patient's life and diverse backgrounds that not only show our differences, but also shows how in death, there are similarities that connect and comfort us all.