Archive for Death

Please, Don’t Say Hospice or Mention Death

How do you share openly about dying with those that don’t want to speak or hear the word, “Death?”

How can a hospice staff—whether home health aids, chaplains, or nurses—explain who they are and what they are doing when a patient’s family instructs them not to mention the word, “Hospice?”

In our patient care meetings, especially with newly admitted hospice patients, a month doesn’t go by without mentioning one or both of these questions.

Since hospice involves caring for the dying and supporting the bereaved after death, sometimes the staff can’t talk about their real work with the people they serve.

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What word do you use for death?

  • Is a person lost?
  • Have they transitioned?
  • Are they gone?
  • Did they pass?
  • Is your loved one in a better place, standing at heaven’s gate, meeting Saint Peter, or with the angels?

Since the beginnings of my ministry, I have used dying, death, and died. I suspect, over the years, in person and on the phone, I have upset people with those unadorned words. Read More →

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Tormented by a Quick Death

I recently talked to a man who received a call from his eldest brother. Of course, it was late at night . . .

I recently talked to a man who received a call from his eldest brother. Of course, it was late at night . . .

A number of months ago, I wrote about deaths that linger.

What about a loved one who dies quickly? Is that different?

I don’t mean sudden, traumatic deaths such as fatal accidents, natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Italy, or from bullets in war zones (and sadly in places like San Bernardino or Orlando or . . .). What about the 30% of deaths in hospice that occur within seven days? And within those national averages, some are in hospice for barely 24 hours. Being with a hospice for a week or less is unsettling. But when the care—and the death—all occur before the next day’s sunset, the unsettledness can become a hurricane of raw emotions, abrupt decisions, and instant regrets.

Hospice professionals know that when a loved one dies that quickly, most of the staff assigned to the patient and family won’t meet them. No one, other than nurses scrambling to manage the most urgent needs, had time to physically be with the patient who went from dying to dead in a handful of hours. A few days later, a chaplain or social worker will call to offer condolences . . . but she or he seems a stranger. More hospice staff will support you during your time of grief, but (again) they will be voices on a phone or letters in the mail.

Hospice professionals also know that many sudden deaths can be explained because of the inevitable, cruel progression of particular illnesses. But some can’t be explained. Read More →

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I’ll Think About Hospice Tomorrow!

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The 1967 re-release poster…

“Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow. But I must think about it. I must think about it. What is there to do? What is there that matters? Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all . . . tomorrow is another day,” Scarlett O’Hara famously said in a tearful close-up at the end of 1939’s Gone With the Wind.

Then the music swelled, and soon the final credits rolled as—viewers may forever assume—the always-scheming Scarlett schemed to rebuild Tara and perhaps get Rhett back and, well, keep living like there were 10,000 tomorrows.

Ah, all those tomorrows! Which finally leads me to ask: what’s your excuse for avoiding hospice? Though hospice has been a Medicare benefit since 1982, it remains a stereotypical “blissful” subject for many. Isn’t ignorance . . . bliss?

  1. I’m not that sick. Go bother someone near death’s door!
  2. I’ll be better soon. I’ve always bounced back before.
  3. No one’s giving me any dopey drugs. I have stuff to do!
  4. If you mention death, I’ll probably start to die! So be quiet!
  5. Hospice is for those dying from cancer . . . I don’t have cancer!

Read More →

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