Let me sing the praises of Susan James, my longtime colleague at hospice. Susan carries a perfect blend of competence, compassion, energy, and good humor into her work and relations with others. Her calm equaminity has carried her charges and team members through many a trying time – her smile, even under adversity, comes at crucial moments. She has taught me to never underestimate a timely good laugh, an act of minor kindness, a good word, or a positive spin on a not-so-positive occurence. We need Susan more than she knows.
She was a beautiful young woman, married with three teenage children. And, she was about to die from one of the most challenging diagnoses hospice clinicians see: lung cancer. Her family had disintegrated as they struggled to know how they would live in the future without their mother. There was no solid ground for the five of them. And that is Susan James’ best place. More than any other hospice co-worker I know she held the center. She stopped the room from spinning. She listened, in a soulful way. Her gifts spring from a joy that bubbles deep inside her, a confidence that the world will turn out okay, and an ability to listen deeply into the hearts of those she serves.
In the words of singer/songwriter Chuck Brodsky, “We are each other’s angels, we meet when it is time. We keep each other going, we show each other signs.” Susan James was one of those beautiful earthly angels; a candle bearer who showed me what I couldn’t see. She gently put her hand upon my heart as I walked with my soulmate Kitty through the amazing time passages, guiding me along the life stream from confusion to clarity, as I gently loved her to death. And beyond.
Susan James has a contagious smile, which I believe derives from the inner joy and wisdom she holds in her heart. Hospice care is hard work. As one of the most insightful people I know, her way is to meet the challenges her patients and families present with openness, empathy and grace.Susan loves her work and is good at it. She has a warm heart and the ability to stay neutral and balanced no matter what the challenges. I first met Susan in 2007 when I began work at a local hospice organization. Susan was a seasoned clinician and through our interactions at work and occasional after work meetings, she generously shared stories and tips about how to support and nurture the often complex and delicate situations we faced. Susan’s sharp wit and skillful words helped me to understand how to be of service to patients and their families as they navigated the often unfamiliar waters of shock and sadness while watching themselves or their loved ones creep closer to those last days.In my training as a hospice nurse, I was taught how to reduce physical suffering by controlling uncomfortable symptoms through medication management and providing education to caregivers about end of life care. In working with Susan, I learned valuable life skills about being present in the moment, having gratitude and helping people find peace while walking their journey home. These life skills have helped me understand the delicate balance we all walk between this world and the next.
Susan James has been a hospice social worker for many years, but she brings so much more to that role than the title implies. Having worked alongside her as a hospice chaplain for a few years, Susan was a pleasure to work and an inspiration. Susan is highly intuitive and open to other’s perspectives. She is aware of the energy in a room or environment as well as the energy or spirit of the person or persons she is serving. Her assessment of how patients or family members are doing, especially in their inner beings, goes right to the core of their concerns. Her wise counsel is right on. Her compassionate listening is a gift and her welcoming spirit a relief. Susan is this way with the people she serves, her colleagues, and her friends.Often, when we were both present to a person’s dying moments, we were able to sense and honor the sacredness of that space as we both provided a peaceful presence that was comforting to one dying and those present as support. Susan also brought her calming, empathetic presence, creativity and gift of storytelling as we led services of remembrance together. Her masterful counseling skills continued to foster inner healing as she provided grief support to family, friends and caregivers left behind.