“Death is the separation of the spirit from the body, which can also mean a new start of life,” said Professor Choe Wha-sook (’73, Nursing).Born in Ganghwado Island in 1955, Choe chose nursing as her life-long career. After completing her PhD, Choe decided to specialize in hospice care highly motivated by her years of volunteering as a translator of books about hospice care at St. Mary’s Hospital, Yeouido. After more than 22 years of working as a hospice nurse, Choe is now the vice president of the Korea Hospice Association. She is also a guest professor at the Ewha Graduate School of Clinical Health Sciences, instructing a curriculum in Advanced Hospice Nurse Specialist.
Hospice care is a program that helps patients in their deathbed and their family. The program is significant because it helps dying people get ready to part with the world. As people get near death, they need to compose themselves both mentally and physically to reconcile with the reality and hospice care assists this exhausting process.
The World Health Organization (WHO) even announced that hospice care is the best choice that patients in their terminal stage and their families can make. Hospice care means a lot to Choe as well because she has spent a major part of her life in contributing herself to the program.
“Death is a a natural stage that we all must go through in our lives but the process of death is difficult. This is why we need hospice care,” said Choe. “Throughout the process of dying, people think about their origins and identities. Hospice care truly assists those people with impending death to leave peace and love to their families.”
As a professional in this particular field, Choe has experienced many deaths. She has met nearly 1,500 patients and has seen 700 of them at the moment of their deaths.
Of the many deaths Choe has seen, she talked about the death that is still vivid in her mind. “The most memorable death was of a lady who painfully regretted spending most of her previous days earning money. She thought she would have enough time to enjoy it after her husband’s retirement,” said Choe. “The lady, however, had to suffer from illness without having any time to spend her days left with her husband.”
Choe also said that she noticed how God was a significant presence to many patients. “Many of the patients who believed in God looked very comfortable when they passed away and they even told me or their family members right before death that they were about to enter heaven,” said Choe.
“On one hand, hospice care is a very hard task because those who are involved in this area have to consume a lot of energy and extreme care for the patients,” said Choe.
However, according to Choe’s experiences, a bright side in hospice care does exist. “Although hospice care is a tough duty, it is rewarding because I can learn more about life as well as be helpful in reducing the pain that the patients and their family go through.”
Choe also wrote a book called Guidebook for Good Death: The True Stories of Hospice Patients. The book contains various documentaries of the many patients she have met. “In 1999, when I was on an interview, I told some stories about my patients to the reporter,” said Choe. “After the reporter was done, she told me that it would be a great idea to write about my patients and their experiences and this is how I started writing the book.”
Based on her years of experience as a hospice nurse, Choe has learned a valuable lesson that she hopes young people understand. She said, “Everyone should not forget that death is something we cannot avoid. We should always have a purpose and meaning in our own lives in order not to regret the life we have lived.”
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