Written by Kath Murray and Misha Butot. This writing was inspired by Misha’s original research and was lovingly edited by Coby Tschanz, Allyson Wightman and Joanne Thomson
Misha Butot was a counselor with 14 years of professional experience when she became curious about how love was a factor or perhaps the essence of quality physical and emotional care. She explored the ways that self-reflective and social justice oriented care providers thought and practiced “love” in their work with those they served by speaking with both clients and colleagues. She traveled through western Canada interviewing a small but diverse group of care providers of different ages, genders, sites of practice, and cultural and spiritual backgrounds. In spite of this diversity, many of their perspectives on the key role of love in their work were remarkably similar.
Fourteen years later I (Kath) asked if we could revisit her research and simplify it to make it more accessible to health care providers. Together with another nurse and counselor we were delighted to delve into this dialogue once more. These conversations led to this latest conceptualization of love in practice.
Our words are an invitation to reflect on what might be considered a “loving” way, a “compassionate” way, of engaging in providing holistic health and psychosocial care through the life trajectory and specifically in the last months, weeks and days.
I present the summary findings of “Love in Professional Practice” and “A Personal Creed on Love in Professional Practice” and invite you to be inspired and to consider what love in professional practice might look like for you.
Ten Principles of Love in Professional Practice
- Recognizing that all beings are whole and interconnected
- Recognizing that human beings, in all their diversity, have intrinsic value, and deserve rights, respect and reverence.
- Caring with deep presence, compassion and mindfulness
- Committing to creating an atmosphere of acceptance, non-judgement and the possibility of mutual honesty
- Being willing to engage with you even when one of us is vulnerable, uncomfortable or uncertain
- Being open to be changed by you, and open to be changed by this work
- Being willing to support, recognize and bear loving witness to your changing
- Committing to self-reflection, and to ongoing personal and professional growth
- Coming to you fully engaged in my own life, relationships and community
- Being open minded, open hearted and deeply curious about who you are, what is true for you, and how to care for you best
A Personal Commitment to Love in Professional Practice
To you, for whom I will care,
I want to care for you with love in my professional practice. I want to live an ethic of love in professional practice.
I recognize that dying is a blessed and bewildering path of personal growth. And I recognize that caring for you, I will have the opportunity to learn with you, and I thank you for teaching me.
When I love in professional practice, I will see you as whole and dignified, with strengths and challenges that maybe unfamiliar to me. I will respect and revere you, as a beautiful child, visiting the fields near my home. I will honour your hopes and concerns for yourself and others. And I will care for you with tenderness. And, I will realize that we are connected, that you and I, we breathe the same air, and we need one another.
When I love you in professional practice, although your face, your body, your thoughts are shifted with disease, I will remember that you have rights to justice, to equity, care, and warmth.
When I love you in professional practice, I will honour that you know your needs and the needs of your loved ones the best. I will open my eyes, my ears, and my heart, to try to understand what is important to you and how you would have me care for you. I will feel for you in your suffering, empathize and care deeply about you. I will adapt the care plan to best meet your desires and concerns. Your desires and concerns will mean more to me than efficiency, checklists, assessment forms, and the tasks that I have been assigned – and even the tasks that I assign myself. I am here to help you to live as you are and contribute to the well-being of your family and community. I will wait with you.
When I love you in professional practice, I will know that I cannot change or fix what is happening, but I can be with you. I will know that I cannot tell you how to die, what to do, what to talk about or think about, or what to believe. However, I will also take the risk at times to share my truth with you, to share my observations and understanding with you, if that is where our conversations take us. I will also support you to act on your insights as you will. Even so, I will respect that you may not want to talk, to change, to grab hold, to step back. I will respect that sometimes you may hope for what seems impossible, and I can be present with you all the same.
When I love you in professional practice, I will come fully immersed in my life, living my life fully, engaged in my relationships and in my community. I will not expect you to fill that for me. I will engage with you, support your desire and ability to engage fully in your life, relationships and community. And I will stay engaged with you, even if there is conflict, if it is not comfortable. I will build my stamina and ability to be with you in times of uncertainty, vulnerability, and fear.
When I love you in professional practice, I will understand that while you are dying, you are also living, and I so want to support you fully.
When I love you in professional practice I am willing to know and to not know, to make mistakes and to do things “right”. I will know that I can read about you in your chart and think that I know you, but I am willing to find that you are different than I thought.When I love you in professional practice, I am open hearted and open minded. I am willing to meet you where you are, to be open to you as you define yourself and to your experience of life. I will withhold judgement. Harvey Chochinov suggests that people see themselves through the eyes of their caregivers; may my eyes behold you as someone who is loving and beloved.
When I love you in professional practice, I am willing to be changed by you and willing to be changed by this work. Yes, when I love you in professional practice, I can join you on the path of personal growth, in living-dying. Always I will celebrate and remember the opportunities to provide loving care to someone who is beloved.
When I love you in professional practice, I am willing and I want to take action to support you in your suffering.
With love in professional practice,
Kath Murray and Misha Butot
Copyright © 2016 Life and Death Matters
Copyright © 2016 Misha Butot
Guest blog post by Katherine Arnup – life coach, speaker, and a retired Carleton University professor. Author of the award-winning book Education for Motherhood, a history of advice for mothers, she has pioneered studies on the diversity of family life. In her latest book, “I don’t have time for this!” A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself, she tackles the last taboo—death itself.
Almost twenty years ago, my sister Carol died of cancer.
She was a gifted Special Education teacher, director of countless school musicals, and my big sister. In January 1997, 19 years after her first encounter with melanoma, her cancer returned with an unstoppable force. As part of a team of friends and family, I cared for her during her final six months: the saddest, most terrifying and most transformative experience of my life.
Shortly before her death, Carol quipped, “You’re going to be an expert at this by the time you’re done with me.”
“Maybe,” I protested, “but I don’t want to learn it from you!”
We both laughed, knowing that, of course, this was precisely what was happening. I had a lot of learning to do because, before my sister got sick, I was more terrified of death than you can imagine.
Caring for my sister as she was dying transformed me.
Four years after her death, I took the volunteer training course at a local residential hospice program. From the moment I entered the hospice, I knew that it was where I belonged. Week after week, I found myself talking to family members, caring for dying people, helping to teach others what my sister had taught me.
I was 47 when my sister died (she was 51). Though often scared that I might not be able to endure the situation, my love for her enabled me to face my own fear of cancer, illness – even death itself. In facing those fears which had both dominated and limited my life, I was able to bring comfort to hospice patients and their families, to friends and relatives facing their parents’ aging. And I was empowered to face my own parents’ final years when that time came.
Throughout my years of caregiving, including 14 years as a hospice volunteer, I have written about my experiences. That work culminated in the publication of my book on caring for our parents and ourselves.
The book provides a roadmap for the journey into aging, illness, and dying that we will all travel—ourselves and the people we love. With stories from my family, my coaching clients, and my years as a hospice volunteer, I encourage people to overcome their fears of aging and loss so they can show up for the challenges in their lives.
We will all go through this in our lives. Everyone has either already lost their parents or is going to at some point in their lives. That’s just a hard fact of life. And of course, each one of us will face our own death.
I want people to know that they’re not alone.
When you are faced with caring for someone you love, you feel as if you’re the only one. It’s a very difficult time, especially if you still have children at home. Hence the title of my book – “I don’t have time for this!” But you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Family members, friends, neighbours, and professionals are all able to ease our load if we are willing to reach out for help.
You can contact Katherine Arnup at firstname.lastname@example.org.