Archive for Dying

In Grief, Everything Changes

During a conversation this week* with a husband whose sixty-something wife had died from cancer, the surviving spouse said, “I thought I was prepared for her death, but nothing prepared me for my feelings now.”

Several of his relatives had experienced their spouses’ deaths. Each offered advice and support and he appreciated it. So far, it hadn’t helped.

The hospice staff serving his wife had honestly discussed her dying. They’d also gently suggested reactions he might have after her death. Everything said was thoughtful and kind. So far, it hadn’t helped.

[Disclaimer.]

He’d bought and read recommended books on grief while attending to his wife’s changing needs as she neared death. After all, the two of them had always been planners. He sought to be ready for the inevitable. So far, it hadn’t helped.

Grief is unique . . . for every single one of us.

No one can prepare for how to handle (and not handle) grief.

Unavoidably and inevitably, we will all grieve.

In another conversation, I called* a griever about six weeks after her spouse’s death. It was the second time I’d phoned, but—a month before—I’d only been able to leave a supportive message. Now she answered. Read More →

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Morphine: the Best Drug at the Worst Time?

The hospice nurse has strongly suggested using morphine for the patient’s increased pain.

You are the patient, still alert and oriented, able to make your own decisions. What will you say to the nurse?

You have the authority—the durable power of attorney for health care—to make decisions when your loved one is unable to choose. What will you say to the nurse?

Every person and family is different. Some, when faced with the toughest decisions in hospice (like starting morphine for pain management), surprise themselves when they are all in agreement. Other families, who may easily agree on whose house to go to for Thanksgiving, or the right gift for Mom and Dad’s fortieth wedding anniversary, either debate or procrastinate about morphine as an option. And nearly every hospice professional has encountered a chaotic, angry, opinionated—yes, over-the-top dysfunctional—family that seems to go to war when a drug like morphine is a loved one’s suggested next step.

Morphine is an effective, scary, and powerful medication. It often becomes the tipping point for resisting or accepting hospice’s comfort care philosophy. Read More →

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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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