December 2001 – February 2002
Hospice care is “about having your heart broken,” but it is also ”like slicing open a piece of fruit and seeing its sweetness,” says Frank Ostaseski, who has attended the deaths of more than 1,000 people over a 20-year period.
Frank is the founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, running a five-person Guest House for the dying, and supplying volunteers to a 28- person hospice inside the Laguna Honda Hospital. He says that his work is “extraordinarily satisfying. I feel so lucky that I get to do this. If we welcome death as part of life, we can learn from people who are dying. It can be an extraordinarily intimate time. Sometimes I get very close, and when a person dies, I am very sad. But I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.”
The Guest House, located a half block from the San Francisco Zen Center, was once a bed-and-breakfast for Buddhist students of the center, converted in 1987 into a home-like hospice for the dying. There the dying pass their final days, each attended by a trained volunteer, a.k.a. “compassionate companion.”
Patients often arrive at the hospice full of anger and suspicion and two overriding fears, Frank says: that they will die in pain, and that they will die alone and abandoned.
At the hospice, he assures them, neither thing is allowed to happen….death and dying, hospice, socially engaged buddhism