Lessons from a Hospice Nurse: Alia Indrawan at TEDxUbud (Transcript)

I was a psychiatric nurse for many, many years, and nursing was natural for me. I was one of those kids who is really sensitive so I couldn’t even watch movies like “Old Yeller,” or “Lassie,” or anything like that without completely breaking down and bawling my eyes out. I had to do those things on my own – watch these movies – just about any movie.

So, I naturally became a nurse. I was always so sensitive to pain and suffering. I could feel it in my physical body. It was palpable. So I wanted to do something in the world that could help people even in just a little way to minimize their pain and suffering. So I went into psychiatric nursing and after a while, I was given the opportunity to go into hospice nursing.

Hospice is care for people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness up until their last breath. The beautiful thing about hospice is it allows people to actually go through the process of dying in their own home, surrounded by their family, surrounded by the environment they have been in all their lives so they do not stuck in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines. There is a whole team of people that come together to provide care for people in hospice, and nurses are part of that team.

As a hospice nurse, I had the opportunity to go to many homes of different people. It really felt like I was becoming part of their family because I was getting to know them, I was getting to know their family, and they were sharing things with me at the most vulnerable period of their life. And I got to be a part of that.

Some of the things I most appreciated about hospice were not necessarily always the medical procedures – that’s not why I went into nursing to begin with – it was the human interaction that I had with people. I would just sit there, and rub their feet, hold hands, and listen; just listen. That one thing would change the world if we all were able to just listen.

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Because what happened when I just listened to people is they completely opened up, their hearts opened, and they shared with me the stories of their life that they had never shared before. They shared their fears and their regrets. They shared love. They allowed me into their hearts, and I allowed them into mine. And it was such a gift – it is such a gift. I want to tell you a story about John and Carrie.

John was in his 50s, and he and Carrie were recently married when John was diagnosed with cancer. By the time he found out about the cancer – it was already at the very, very late stages – so he wasn’t even given six months to live like most hospice patients may, he was only given less than a month.

So, when I went in to first see John and Carrie, I was met with a shamanic healer, met by him at the door. He showed me the procedure he was doing about trying to take the cancer and suck it into egg yolk. At the time, I had only known Western medicine; I hadn’t studied anything yet in alternative healing and the things that I do now. So I had no idea what was going on here, but I could feel this desperation. This, “OK, we have to find something. We have to find something.”

They tried every single method they could to just get rid of the cancer, fight it, battle it, just get it out of there. We have a life to live, we have dreams to live. You could feel the energy. Until one day I went over there, and everything was different. There was this peace just permeating the air. I went over, and I asked them what was going on, and they said, “We decided to let go. We decided to surrender.”

I want to make a clarification. Letting go and surrender does not mean giving up. It does not mean losing hope. It does not mean giving away faith, and it is in no way a weakness. But they let go, and what happened when they let go and surrendered was they started to open up to life – real, true, authentic living. They were able to express with one another these emotions and these things had been buried deep inside for years. And John would go these very, very deep introspective places where he would just get to know who he really was. They shared this bond together and invited all the family in to share this with them; and their friends. It was just a beautiful, beautiful experience.

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When we knew John was getting to the end of his life – we knew that things were probably just a couple of days before he took his last breath – Carrie created a sanctuary for him. She lit the most beautiful candles, and music was playing all the time. People would come in, family and friends, and they were having a living memorial service – something I think that we should do in the world so much more – a living memorial service where they came in, and they celebrated John’s life with John there so that he could hear everything that they said about him, all these beautiful things, he was able to share with all of them what means the most to him in their relationship.

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