Poem Swentzell

Santa Fe, NM

“I wanted to combine my old skills of working with my hands with the study of social work.”

Since I was very little, I saw there was suffering in the world – not just physical pain, but emotional and spiritual anguish as well. My parents came from two different worlds: Native American and Anglo. While listening to them talk about spiritual and philosophical leaders from different cultures, I learned there were points of contact that could be made to help ease this suffering.

By age five or six, I had started to use my hands to massage and knead tension out of my mother’s shoulders and back. I did what I felt was the most natural thing in the world to do – touch another person with the hope that they felt a little better when they stood up again. By the time I was 25, I was a nationally certified massage therapist running my own private practice.

Over the next 20 years I worked with doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors and therapists, including at a cancer resource center. I had the honor to work on people who were days from death and the time felt so sacred knowing that they were leaving soon. It reminded me of those special first months of my babies’ lives when every moment counted and I noticed every little movement they made.

In my late 40s, I started to feel the physical effects of having done massage therapy for such a long time. I could no longer garden with abandon and had to “save” my arms and hands for work. My husband and I talked about my returning to graduate school in order to both prolong my ability to work and to increase my chances of finding a job.

In May 2014, I graduated from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University where I have been able to pursue a Master of Social Work degree focusing on both American Indian issues and – my encore career – hospice social work.

I wanted to combine my old skills of working with my hands with new skills found in the study of social work, to be able to support those going through the dying process and their loved ones with compassion and honor. To return to school and don a beginner’s hat for a new career, I needed a sense of humor, helpful young colleagues and the support of family and friends.

My husband and I have moved back home to Santa Fe, New Mexico and I have started work as a hospice social worker at a center, helping them to make connections with surrounding Native American communities.

And a new chapter begins.