Archive for Emotions

How Ornery are You?

the old Up guy

The ornery old man from Pixar’s 2009 film Up.

Humans can be remarkably empathetic and compassionate.

And we can also be, especially when facing the toughest of times, so darn ornery. In Joan Halifax’s Being with Dying, she wrote,

World religions scholar Huston Smith once told the story of a well-known psychologist, an ornery old man close to death. One morning, as he was struggling to get to the toilet, a nurse tried to help him. He snapped back at her, “I can do it myself!” Then he dropped to the floor dead. Smith used this story to illustrate just how defensive about needing help we are often are. He called this reaction ‘the porcupine effect.’

I agree with Smith’s “porcupine effect,” or . . . don’t touch me! Over the years of working with those close to death (and those caring for them) I have frequently heard a variation of the phrase: how you live is how you die. That may not be as true when death happens because of a car accident or an earthquake, but still . . .

During life, some are ornery like Smith’s “well-known psychologist,” and that’s exactly what they are like as they approach death. Read More →

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Both are 5 Letter Words

angerWith his voice as cold as black ice on a winter road, the nephew kept repeating, “That type of thing should never happen. It wasn’t fair to my aunt.”

I agreed with him.

Every time.

The nephew’s aunt—who’d raised him since his single-parent mother had died before he entered kindergarten—was the most important person in his life. Her final days in hospice, as far as he was concerned, became her worst days.

Based on the brief chart notes I’d scanned about this sixty-something woman, I hadn’t expected any anger about hospice. When I phoned not long after her death to ask how he and the rest of the family were doing, his anger shadowed our entire conversation.

Here, though, I must pause.

[Disclaimer]

There was no nephew. I am making most of this up, based on my thousands of calls to people grieving in the first days after the death of a loved one. And there was no aunt. The “type of thing” that “should never happen” could include many different possibilities:

  • A social worker made a promise to bring a list of local companies for caregiving options, but never followed through.
  • A home health aide didn’t properly dry off the patient after a bath.
  • A hospice physician had scheduled a visit with the family in the morning, but didn’t arrive until late afternoon.
  • A chaplain said a prayer that was explicitly Christian, but the patient was Buddhist.

I could keep adding to this list of disappointments. All of them are possible, but none of what I mentioned happened to this fictional family with a “nephew” desperately hoping his beloved “aunt” would have a calm, easy, gentle death. Read More →

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What If the Deceased is Despised?

In the grief support groups that I’ve led, I frequently refer to the person who died as, Your beloved.

A while back, my boss attended a hospice conference. After returning to the office, she posed a question from one of the workshop presenters: what if the person being grieved was not loved?

Should everyone be called a “loved one” or “beloved?” Read More →

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