Archive for Death

My New Four-Letter Words

Words Matter

As much as my words could be labeled as platitudes or clichés, they are heartfelt . . .

There are two four-letter words that I have usually said at the close of a conversation with someone grieving: Take care. In recent weeks, I have added two “new” four-letter words because of the microscopic onslaught of Covid-19: Stay safe.

There are additional slightly longer or shorter words that are included in my predictable, simplistic responses when trying to support those hurting after the death of a loved one:

  • How are you doing?
  • Is this a good time to talk?
  • Can I call you again?
  • Your (crying, not crying, eating, not eating, silence, worries, lack of concentration, weariness, plunging back into work) seems normal.

As much as my words could be labeled as platitudes or clichés, they are heartfelt. At the end of a phone call to a griever, a few weeks or months after the death, I say the Take care like it is a prayer. I indeed mean it as a prayer, as a spoken and shared hope for their future. And I don’t mean the future of years, but the future of a griever’s next moments and hours. When we grieve, time skids out of our control, like a car losing traction on a road’s black ice. Time slows. Time accelerates. A minute takes an hour. A day can whoosh by and we can’t recall anything accomplished between waking and returning to bed. My Take care is about treading lightly into the next moments. It’s about acknowledging a world that has temporarily lost color, meaning, clarity, purpose, plans, and so many other things that seemed “easy” a day or decade ago. Read More →

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Hospice and a Lingering Pandemic

Sheltering during virus

The essay with the most comments on this website was written in May 2016, almost four years ago. There were immediate responses to the article when it was first posted. More readers have added their thoughts in each passing year. I felt it essential to include a version of that “popular” article as a chapter in my 2019 A Companion for the Hospice Journey book.

It was on lingering death.

It was about those deaths that take more time than anyone—the medical professionals and the caregivers—ever expected or predicted.

We in hospice inform families that our comfort care is for those who have been given six months or less to live. That is a hard message to properly convey! When hearing from their doctor, or perhaps a hospice nurse who is the first to explain about the comfort care vs. cure services, there are families unable to comprehend the “six months” part. Maybe they are foolishly optimistic, or maybe they are dumbfounded by the new and terrible diagnosis, but some families are convinced their dying beloved will “graduate” from hospice care. Why, six months from now, won’t their spouse or parent beat the disease and return to . . . normal?

Normal? Read More →

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Death Doesn’t Do Schedules

Late night call

A nurse phoned on the night I came home, letting me know Mom had just died . . .

My father died in early February of 2012. I had visited him five days before, but was not there when Dad died, alone in his bed.

About eighteen months later, in 2013, I was with Mom early in the morning of a hot August day while she lay dying in a convalescent facility. Having been with her for almost a week, I returned home—150 miles south on California’s Highway 99—later on that summer day. I was not with her when she died that night, alone in her bed.

Though my head understands why I was absent when my beloved parents took their last breaths, these are the regrets of my heart.

Dad’s dementia had been going on for years. Even past his ninetieth birthday, his heart was strong. His random, belligerent, disease-inspired actions still intimidated the caregivers at the facility where he lived. Whether a week or a month before he died, no one anticipated his death. Given my mother’s understandable anxiety about finances, we had calculated how much Dad’s care would cost if he lived to 100 years or more. While he didn’t achieve the century mark, we were prepared. How could anyone know that he would die on that mild winter day in California?

Still, regrets. Read More →

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