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In our home, hospice is messy. It's accidents in the house. It's vomit on the floor. It's washing bedding once or twice every day . . . sometimes because of blood, sometimes bile, sometimes poop.
Anything goes here.
This is the intermediate view of one of my latest hospice cleanups. This area, about two meters square, was full of poop. The consistency was somewhere between toothpaste and mouthwash with none of minty freshness.
Thankfully, I have maintained my sense of humor.
Hospice is hard. As someone who has provided hospice care for animal family members continually since 2005, I feel well qualified to make that statement. It may be easier in other families and every situation is different.
It's exhausting. It's alienating. People who have not experienced this kind of love cannot understand why I continue to do this every day rather than ask our doctor to come to the house and "put him down."
This is an extraordinary love. I accept and cherish every member of my family, regardless of capability or capacity. On days like this when that love comes with extra duty (or doody, because I can't resist), I do it. I do it in love, even if it turns my stomach or I'm late for an appointment.
This is the heart of hospice.
This dirty work is the rough side of the relationship. It's the side people don't see, and it's the most important side. How I behave during the best days is of no consequence. How I behave during these days, these long, filthy, discouraging, questioning everything days, is the heart of the relationship.
I'm not always falling-over-myself delighted to scrub floors or gently wash fur. Some days these are the last things I want to do. I do them because I love. I do them because I know that these limitations that I support are part of the package. The vulnerability and intimacy inherent in touching the things that come out of someone else's body are intense, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't ever feel overwhelmed by that intensity.
And the odor.
I've learned a some things about this dirty side of hospice.
1. I can do just about anything in the name of love. Hospice care surely feels inconvenient at times when other parts of my life need to slow down or stop to allow this level of care. Hospice care is also the greatest honor I have experienced in my lifetime.
2. Friends and family will not understand this commitment until they do it themselves with someone they deeply love. I'm okay with them not understanding because my first commitments are to the family within my home.
3. The rough days in hospice are the ones when I feel burdened and unappreciated. I sometimes wish for a speedier demise so I can get a break. That's normal, and it doesn't diminish my love. Those thoughts and feelings tell me I need to care for myself better and take a little break. Those under my care and others who support me understand and encourage that.
4. Each time one of our animal family members dies, I wish for one more opportunity to clean up. One more time to walk into a room and smell the indescribably sickly poo smell. One more time to lift stretchy gobs of mucousy, bilious vomit from a blanket with a paper towel. When I am in my best frame of mind, I cherish these messes because they mean that today we are together at home.
5. Fizzion gets out nearly any stain and odor on nearly any surface without much fuss. I don't know that our home could be without it.
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I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.