Inside a Victorian-era apartment building atop the hills of San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood, six dying residents go about their days. They swap stories, sip chilled pumpkin rice soup, and take strolls through the garden, if they’re feeling up to it.
The Zen Hospice Project reimagines the experience of dying. Staff and volunteers believe that the best end-of-life care immerses terminally ill patients in the human experience, by delighting the senses, offering comfort and community, and reminiscing on bygone days.
When a terminally ill resident tells the kitchen manager that he’s not hungry for food or drink, but would take a slice of chocolate cake, she whips up a batch of cupcakes.
“This is a moment you have to really enjoy,” Erin Singer, the former kitchen manager at Zen Hospice, told Business Insider in 2015. “We don’t take it that seriously here.”
In 2015, we spent the day at the Zen Hospice Project’s residential care facility, the Guest House, to see what it’s like to live and die there.
On an unusually crisp day in San Francisco, we arrived at the Guest House. It was quiet, save for the pitter-patter of volunteers’ feet on the hardwood floors.
Dying in a hospital (or anywhere outside of the home) is often a clinical, impersonal experience. The patient lies in a white-walled room, maybe alongside a stranger, with nothing to do but listen to the sounds of monitors. Zen Hospice is different.
At the Guest House, big comfy couches and bay windows by the entrance make it feel like somebody’s home.