Photo above: The Zen Hospice Project guesthouse. Screenshot from “The Art of Mindful Caregiving” by Zen Hospice Project on Vimeo.

Hospice can be traced in the West to the 11th Century in Ireland and other places in Europe, with the first identified hospice facility in Rhodes, Greece in the 14th Century. It did not become an established and recognized practice, however, until the latter part of the 20th Century.

The word “hospice” was first used in more current times to describe the care of the terminally ill in 1948 by Dame Cicely Saunders, M.D. in England. She went on to found the first modern hospice facility in England in 1967 at St. Christopher’s. Two years later, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. published her landmark book On Death and Dying. The first hospice in the U.S. was established in Connecticut in 1974, followed by New York and Montreal, and the idea began to take hold, with a hospice facility established in Marin County, California in 1979, and at the Palo Alto VA the same year. MediCare first offered a hospice “benefit” in 1984.

The movement is international. The first hospice in Zimbabwe was started in 1979 and in India in 1986. Now, there are now over 5,300 hospice services and facilities in the United States and Canada alone. In some places, such as Saudi Arabia, hospice is primarily a service, while in others it is a facility, or both.

What is hospice? If you are a hospice professional or volunteer, you already know. If you have a family member or friend who has received hospice care you may have a good idea. If you are facing your own terminal prognosis, you likely have many questions.

Hospice, hospice care, hospice facilities is a service, and for some a place, where your needs are attended to as you near the more certain and foreseeable end of your life. These needs do not include curing the disease, illness or condition that you now face. It does include the time, attention and care you need to be reasonably pain free and comfortable, to consider and reconcile yourself to your mortality, to review and recall the events and relationships in your life in a meaningful way, and the opportunity to reconcile old conflicts and issues that you may wish to put to rest. More broadly, it is your opportunity to approach death in the way you want and need, with compassionate, understanding and helpful assistance.