Since 2010, I have been a hospice volunteer with Penn Medicine Hospice Princeton Health. At Penn Medicine Princeton Health, I also serve on the Biomedical Ethics Committee and the Patient & Family Advisory Council. I'm a former board member of the Goals of Care Coalition of New Jersey, a Princeton-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the conversation between doctor and patient and ensuring that this conversation focuses on the patient's goals of care. And I help curate the Penn Medicine Listening Lab, which gathers stories that embody the power of listening and storytelling in the work of healing. I was an English teacher for thirty years, most of them spent at Princeton Day School, where I chaired the English Department for thirteen years.
I left teaching in 2015 to devote myself to hospice and the issues surrounding end-of-life care, and right from the start this new work felt like a natural extension of my years in the classroom. End-of-life care and teaching are both about “deep listening"— about meeting people where they are and helping them “learn by going where [they] have to go.”
Like many hospice volunteers, I came to this work through personal experience, caring for family members and loved ones during their final days. At left are links to two pieces of writing about these experiences, which have led to this passionate conviction: As individuals and as a society, we need to engage in an on-going dialogue about the work of dying and how we do it.
This dialogue encompasses what has come to be known as "the conversation" (in part because of the wonderful book of that title by Angelo Volandes). That phrase refers to the conversation that patients with advanced incurable conditions should be having with their family members and their medical team about what kind of life they want to live within the boundaries of their condition. But the dialogue I am talking about is a larger one, in which we rethink our feelings about death itself and its place in the story of a life well-lived. More about that under From Here to There.
A birth (my daughter's, in a car, on the shoulder of Route 1), a death (my father's, at home, as I held his hand), and my first experience as a hospice volunteer.
An account of the last hours of my father's life, where my interest in hospice began.