Published on: April 1, 2012

A few simple words–or even just a silent, supportive presence – can do so much to bring peace to the seriously ill and dying.

This was the essential message of the “Compassion in Action” Conference, held at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, USA on March 30, 2012. The theme of the one-day event was “Providing ‘The Best Care Possible’ Through the End of Life.”

Organized by Hospice of the Valley and Santa Clara University Department of Counseling Psychology, it featured top tier speakers and drew a sold out crowd of professionals and volunteers from the palliative care and hospice fields.

Pallium India-USA, which was a sponsor of the event, provided information to participants about culturally sensitive hospice volunteering, advance care planning, and the situation in India.

Kersi Daruwalla, a longtime hospice volunteer who has recently joined Pallium India-USA, was a stalwart at the table, as were volunteers Zarina Kaji and Sunshine Mugrabi. Kersi had this to say:

This is a type of conference I recommend all of us can attend from time to time. It revitalizes every cell in your body, and helps you understand how simple life and relationships can be. Yet, it is up to us to make this happen.

I can sum this experience up in the following words: It feels good to be a human, caring for another human.

 Here are some highlights from the speaker line-up:

  • Providing “The Best Care Possible” Through the End of Life – Ira Byock, MD, Director of Palliative Medicine, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; Professor, Dartmouth Medical SchoolA world-renowned writer and speaker on palliative care issues, Dr. Byock gave a gripping and impassioned speech about the crucial need for a major rethink on how we take care of our elderly and dying in America. Giving examples from his own practice and personal life, he laid out a path for medicine, families, and US society as a whole to ensure the best care possible for those who are in the last stages of life.
  • Family Meanings and the Death of a Loved One: Understanding and Helping – Janice Nadeau, RN, PhD, Minnesota Human Development Consultants. Family dynamics are an inherent part of the grieving process. Dr. Nadeau, a family therapist, used an unusual prop–a literal “family mobile”–to demonstrate the importance of understanding and recognize these unconscious interactions when working with families of dying patients.
  • The Challenge of Caring: Putting Your Empathy to Work Without Burning Out – Dale G. Larson, PhD, Professor of Counseling Psychology, Coordinator, Health Psychology EmphasisDr. Larson shared his immense wealth of experience in how to stay balanced in the end-of-life care field. Laced with humor and warmth, the talk inspired many in the audience to nod in recognition over and over again. His list of the “top 10 signs of burnout” were as laugh-out-loud funny as anything on late night TV.
  • Wounded Warriors: Their Last Battle – Deborah Grassman, NP, Bay Pines Veterans Administration Medical Center. Grassman’s hard hitting and emotionally intense talk brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. She demonstrated with story after story that the healing of our veterans at the end of life is and can be a healing for the entire nation.

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