Archive for Talking About Dying

No Perfect Words

Speak Truth

For many future hospice patients, there is a time when life is about to change. And someone needs to say something . . .

A doctor leans forward in her chair. For no reason—other than doing one more thing to avoid speaking—she shifts several thin manila files across her desk. She has done this with only a glance at the files because she was making herself keep eye contact with her patient. The patient hasn’t moved. He sits motionless and upright just like the prior three visits. This gentleman is old enough to be her grandfather. Wearing a wrinkled sports jacket and food-stained tie, he’s overdressed like her Pops would be. Dress nice for the doctor’s office, that’s what her grandfather always advised.

Her patient is a nice man. Always polite. Always with a list of questions. Now, as his oncologist, she knows his most recent test results. What should she say about the final worst thing that will happen in his life when she manages to open her mouth?

Later, the seventy-something man in the wrinkled jacket and stained tie faces his wife. She didn’t go with him to the doctor’s office because she was “under the weather.” As they sit on the couch—the one she’s been negotiating to dump for three years because their cats have shredded the sides—he loosens his tie. They sit angled toward each other, his knee touching her knee. She still wears her house robe and sips the tea he made for her after returning home. It’s chamomile, of course, the same kind of tea she drank on their first date over fifty years ago.

She is his oxygen; his yesterday, today, and tomorrow. They have been through the death of a child and have watched two other children graduate from college and start families. What should be the first thing he says to her that will begin the last thing they will do together? Read More →

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Do You Have a Moment?

Salt & Pepper shakers

Can I have a minute of your time?

According to a recent Center for Disease Control publication, the life expectancy for an “average” American was 78 years. Doing the math means the annual total of 525,600 minutes mutiplies to 40,996,800 lifetime minutes.

In a minute, everything can change.

In hospice, every moment is precious.

How many minutes are wasted on worries that prove meaningless, speaking hurtful words we regret, or making decisions causing less time with loved ones and more time with, well . . . guilt?

Now closer to seventy than sixty years old, I cherish moments that once seemed insignificant. For example, a Cub Scout merit badge involved planting a bulb. I knelt by my mother as we dug into moist soil. I remember Mom her bent knees beside mine. I remember the aroma of overturned dirt. I remember her smile. I remember her reassurance that flowers would eventually bloom in the future. Such a trivial moment when my age could be counted on the fingers of both hands. Yet somehow, across the decades, it resonates as a treasure between mother and child. For as long as I remember the mighty and modest events of my life, I’ll picture the dirt in Mom’s fingernails, the cool air and damp earth, and being with someone who loved me with every beat of her heart.

What is a “trivial” moment you treasure? Read More →

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That Word . . . That Talk


At one of the churches I served, I led a class entitled, “Living Fully, Dying Well.” It encouraged participants to learn about and share their views on . . . Death. I asked the group of mostly parents, ranging in age from 30s to 70s: “Did you ever have a talk with your kids about sex?”

A few had toddlers, and that talk was years away. A few never had kids: no need for the talk. But the majority, recently or decades before, raised their hands to acknowledge covering that subject with their kids.

“What about death?”

They stared at me.

“Have you told your children about what your thoughts are about death? About anything having to do with your wishes if you get a terminal illness, or what you want if you can’t make decisions?” Read More →

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