Finding inner strength during hospice caregiving

Today I was driving in my car between hospice visits.  I turned on WHYY, our local public radio station, I and heard the end of a segment on creativity, a conversation facilitated by psychologist Dan Gottlieb with guest psychologist Tara Brach. Brach says that when we afraid and overwhelmed, it’s easy to turn away from ourselves for comfort. Instead, Brach urges us to explore pathways to “carry us to an inner sanctuary…[that] is always there for us–and within which we begin to find strength and peace.” Poet Ellen Bass also shared her way of expressing her inner thoughts through poetry.

Perhaps with the recent death of poet Maya Angelou—or perhaps being the anniversary of my mother’s birth date (she, a Poet Laureate herself)—Ellen Bass grabbed my attention.  She is an award-winning poet and she writes beautifully about emotional difficulty – including death, dying, grief, and loss.

In honor of the great Maya Angelou, and the poetic expression that can help heal emotional depths of pain, I share with Caring With Confidence readers a few thoughts on writing poetry and one of Dan Gottlieb’s favorite Ellen Bass poems.

Poetry is…

Sometimes a poet will evoke a feeling within the reader that words really cannot express in the traditional rules of writing.

Poetry is a visualization, a guided imagery, an expressive therapy, a creative way of emoting on a page.  Sometimes a poet will evoke a feeling within the reader that words really cannot express in the traditional rules of writing.  No, poets are given permission to use written word with guidelines, not rules – and therefore more creative meaning hits the page.

Sometimes trying your hand at poetry—writing without rules—can provide an outlet you might not otherwise be able to verbalize. Try it—there’s no need to rhyme, no set length, and no limits on your topic or emotional direction. Keep the poem for yourself, read it to a friend, or share with us in the comments section.


I had a student once who was so depressed
she wanted to die. She was a young single mother,
lonely, poor, watching other girls
go to parties and bars while she was home
cutting the crusts off peanut butter sandwiches,
reading The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream.
Then she collapsed with heart disease
and spend the next few years waiting for a transplant.
The strange thing is, now she was happy.
Every day, almost every breath, was semi-ecstatic.
She was a modern day Chicana Rumi,
hanging out with the Beloved, grateful just to touch His hem.
I find I’m telling myself all the time now,
look how you lift one foot and then the other,
all the nerves and synapses firing together.
Look how you reach for a carton of blueberries
and eat each dusky globe, one by one.
Look at the spotted dog tied to the newsstand,
drops of saliva sliding off his tongue
and the cracked Bic lighter in the gutter,
shining a watery turquoise blue.
Even when your heart is used as a teabag
you can lie down in a warm bed,
even though you cry half the night
with the window open a little
to let in the stars.

—    By Ellen Bass

Holy Redeemer

Holy Redeemer

For nearly 80 years, the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer have served the community through their mission to care, comfort, and heal. The visionary Sisters created a health system committed to helping people achieve optimal health no matter where they are in life. This includes delivering exceptional medical care not only within the hospital, but also through our outpatient, home care, and long-term care facilities and services. As a result, our health system is well-positioned to serve the community now and in the future.
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2 Responses to “Finding inner strength during hospice caregiving”

  1. Louise Gioffre

    Hi Valerie… I am also hospice RN . I have always admired Dan Gottlieb as well. He is a true survivor battling back from his injury and continuing to help others. Got to love him.


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