Compassion fatigue is real, but this hospital's approach might just be the antidote.
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Dignity Health 2017

Musician Terrie Miley always wears a smile. What makes her unique is who she smiles for, and how she keeps it up.

As a hospice musician, Miley’s everyday work involves going to see patients who are in their final hours and using music as a way to help people tell their stories. "The story of their lives," as she puts it.  

Image via Dignity Health/Upworthy.


While many of us would do anything to avoid the idea of coming face-to-face with our own mortality or sharing space with a total stranger who is on the brink of death, Miley has chosen to face it every single day in hopes of bringing them peace in their final hours.

Most people who volunteer walk away with the knowledge that they’ve made a difference; Miley walks away knowing that she has just said goodbye.

But with such intense emotional labor comes the need for self-care.

For Miley and her colleagues at Dignity Health, the team decided to enact a mindfulness program consisting of meditation and breathing exercises to help their employees feel present during those long, hard hours on the job.

The premise for this program is a simple but powerful one: To be compassionate towards others, we first have to be compassionate toward ourselves — if only for a few minutes.

For hospice workers like Miley, then, finding moments of pause gives them the peace and attention needed to do this work in a healthy way.

And when it's built into the work culture, this kind of reflection isn't just an afterthought. It's a practice, and it's one that's transforming how caregivers like Miley approach their jobs.

How do they do it? Have a look for yourself:

This program helps you focus on the now. And the effects on your health can be enormous.

Posted by Upworthy on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Miley knows better than anyone that while helping these patients is rewarding, it can take a mental and emotional toll on caregivers.

When offering the humble gift of musical bliss and human connection, it’s not always easy being confronted with life’s biggest hurdle: death.

"Hospice is challenging work, in ways that you might not consider," Miley explains.

Because Miley’s job description includes being present for those who don’t have loved ones in their final hours, it requires a level of emotional investment that she has to sustain in every moment of her work.

Whether it's a guided meditation after lunch or a walking meditation on a break, these moments of reflection make all the difference for caregivers like Miley, who too easily forget themselves while caring for others.

For Miley, it’s a reminder of why we need to slow down during the daily grind.

Life is short, and while that knowledge may sit in the back of our minds, it’s important to remember that our day-to-day existence is about so much more than work.

Miley's story is an important reminder that for every connection we offer to others, it's just as important to pause and reconnect with ourselves.

To make this work sustainable, then, mindfulness is everything.

"When you’re in hospice, it is definitely about the moment. It is about being present with that person and creating healing in that moment," said Heidi Summers, senior director of mission integration and education at Dignity Health.

Miley puts it best when she says, "Being present is the only thing that matters."

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