Death is Not Something to Be Feared

Sixty-eight percent of people in the United States admit they have a fear of death. Whether that be a fear of their own death or the death of their closest friends and family, people are scared of what could be the ultimate end.

Not everyone shares this view. For some, death is a peaceful process where one’s life is celebrated. This is certainly the view at EveryStep's Kavanagh House on 56th Street.

While each member of the Kavanagh House on 56th Street provides an essential service to patients and their families, ensuring their time in hospice is comfortable and respectful, the social workers at the residence bring the care full-circle.

Beth Brauer has worked as a hospice social worker at Kavanagh House since 2011, conducting admission assessment to determine the care required to keep patients and families comfortable, while also simply spending time with them during their final days.

Brauer’s job duties are split between paper work and working with patients and their families. When doing the latter, she does admission assessments. This involves interviewing the patients and their families to assess their needs, find out how the Kavanagh House on 56th Street can make them as comfortable as they can be.

She’s also there to support the patients and their families whenever they need her. If they do not reach out, she will try to reach out.

“Some of the visits I initiate, some of the visits the family initiates… There are times I have to see them, and then there are other times a staff member might say, ‘Oh, this daughter wants to talk to you about funeral homes,’ so then I go to see them based on that,” Brauer notes.

One assumption people make about Brauer’s work, is that it must be heartbreaking or soul-crushing.  She challenges these assumptions, describing her job as a special role she’s honored to have.

“When you’re going to school to become a social worker… your patient has a walk, or your client has their walk and you have yours, but you’re privileged to walk beside them for a short time,” she said.

This attitude matches that of EveryStep. In the manual, the Patient and Family Handbook, the organization details its dedication to seeing death in a new light. Their goal is to help patients and families who are “living final days and months in comfort… finding peace of mind… working through conflicts and repairing relationships with loved ones… looking back on life and finding meaning.”

The Kavanagh House on 56th Street is dedicated to making the best of what most would consider a dire situation.

“This is a wonderful place,” Brauer said “This is a very peaceful, calm place. The staff is excellent. I’m very proud to work here and always have been.”

At the hospice house, a memorial illustrates the approach staff take on death; a wholesome and peaceful process in which life is remembered and celebrated. Inside a quiet, windowless room a metal tree sits atop a desk, displaying the names of those who have recently died at the house. Inside the desk, countess books contain the names and special stories of people who passed while in the hospice’s care.

The staff at the Kavanagh House on 56th Street clearly have a more positive outlook on death than most, but that’s not to say they aren’t affected by patients.

“I think it’s okay to have tears in your eyes here when you’re really empathizing, and I feel like it would be impossible for me not to do that at times because people’s stories are really moving and you can see their emotion… you kind of put yourself in their position.”

Thanks in part to staff members like Beth Brauer, EveryStep was recently named as a Des Moines Register Top Workplace for 2018. If you would like to join the EveryStep team visit our career website to learn about job opportunities.

This story is an edited excerpt of a piece written by Drake University student Noah Dougen.