Hatteberg's People - Dr. Tom Welk

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On Hatteberg’s People, death and dying…we don’t like to talk about it. But Dr. Tom Welk sees it every day. He is one of those who formed Wichita’s first Hospice program, now Harry Hynes Hospice. For 25 years he has been talking with both patients and families about end of life issues. One thing may surprise you. He says a ‘hospice’ isn’t about death.

‘I tell people to get rid of that notion. We are not about death. We are about life and living. Life and living to the very last moment.”

For 25 years Dr. Tom Welk has walked the halls of hospice service. He has become an expert on end of life issues.

“I think once people get an opportunity to talk about what is on their mind and in their hearts, it gives them a lot of peace. I don’t consider this work. I consider it, for the lack of a better word, my mission, my purpose, my reason to be.”

“What I most of the time come out with is a word of thanks for being able to enter into the life of this person. I really enter into that life where ‘they’ are. What I said earlier is so true, I don’t enter where I am. And the other thing I do when I walk in is I look beyond the physical. I look into their eyes, because that is where the beauty of the person is.”

“And in many instances, I must tell you, I will spend much more time with the family. Many times the patient is much farther along in the acceptance than the family is. Again it is very important because many patients will hang on and hang on because loved ones aren’t ready.”

“I’m there to put the fun in the funeral. I know that sounds irreverent and I have to be careful who is asking the question and how I’m answering it, but one thing I say to them immediately is – Yes, we can be sad about this person’s death, yes, we miss them, but we want to celebrate their life…put the fun into their life again.”

It is a life’s work that can take an emotional toll. Outside he tends a garden. Inside, trees are turned to art like clocks and rocking chairs.

“There is no way, and I’ve said it over and over, that you can take care of anyone, if you don’t take care of yourself. When you’re doing something like this, I’ll just set back sometimes and take a look at that chair or these clocks, and you know you just have a return for your efforts.”
“Again, I think that is very healthy. I think that is therapy for me anyway.”

“Take advantage of the day, take advantage of the moment. Don’t worry about what tomorrow will hold, because you can’t do much about it anyway.”

“I feel what I am doing makes a difference and has purpose, and anytime you have that meaning and purpose, it is fulfilling.”

Larry tag:
Dr. Welk has had a lifetime of living in the art of dying. He is fascinating to talk with and he brings ‘light’ to the ‘darkness’ of death. For more information you may contact:

Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice
313 S Market
Wichita, KS 67202
Phone: 316-265-9441
Fax: 316-265-6066

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