Archive for Emotions

A is for Anger in Hospice

anger-1Entering into hospice care reveals the best and worst of us. Responses and relationships seem on edge: raw, exposed, and vulnerable.

Anger is alphabetically and dramatically near the top of an emotional volcano when a doctor announces there are only six months or less to live. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously identified anger as one of the five stages of dying. (And though her efforts have often been misconstrued—for example, the “stages” aren’t sequential and predictable—Kubler-Ross’ insights into dying, death, and grief are essential reading.)

But instead of anger as one of five “stages,” I wonder about four ways that I’ve witnessed anger erupt when a loved one faces death.

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1. Anger at God

People from any religion that worships a supreme being can have anger towards God for “causing” a loved one’s illness. Regardless of how much or how little faith matters to a believer, how could God do this to me, or to my beloved? I have witnessed similar rage towards God from eighty-something husbands learning about a wife’s stage four cancer and from parents whose pre-teen daughter has just been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness.

Age doesn’t matter. Don’t comfort anyone by saying a parent or spouse has “lived a long, good life.” Everyone wants another day, month, and year(s). Don’t try to reassure a parent watching a child slip away by claiming God has a plan or that the child is “needed” in heaven. 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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Grief & Anger

anger.1During our conversation, the nephew kept repeating, his angry voice like black ice on a winter road, “That type of thing should never happen and 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 frustrations 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 should pause.

[Disclaimer]

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. There was no nephew. No aunt. And the “type of thing” that “should never happen” could’ve been many different possibilities: Read More →

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