Archive for Talking About Dying

Death, Slowly but Suddenly

While solo climbing the Matterhorn, Eric fell…

My father’s dying spanned a decade. Though not on his death certificate, Dad died from dementia. His decline seemed like a daily drop of water filling a bathtub.

My mother’s dying occurred in the hottest stretch of a singular summer. There was a clenched fistful of weeks from diagnosis to death. Though not on her death certificate, Mom died because of an opportunistic, savage cancer. But her rapid decline also unfolded like a film stuck in slow motion. A solitary hour of holding her hand in intensive care could feel like a week.

Then, in the midst of their dying, the phone rang. It rang while I wished my father’s cruel dementia would please, please, please be over. It rang while I longingly, lovingly prayed for an impossible miracle to spare Mom more pain.

In one call, my older sister informed me Dad had died. In the other, a year-and-a-half later, a nurse spoke on a phone down the hallway from Mom’s hospital room to tell me about the death.

For all the differences in their dying, and in their diseases and our decisions about care, one of my first thoughts after twice placing the phone back on the cradle was . . .

Dad’s death was sudden.

Mom’s death was sudden.

How often does death feel like that? Read More →

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I Always Prefer a Funeral

rose on casket

“What do you say when people ask how you can work in hospice?”

Near the end of a long Friday, and at the end of a tough week, a colleague—a weary chaplain who had been with a few “tough” patients—posed that question.

That question. That question.

I won’t share the details of our conversation because—like everything in hospice—confidentiality is a priority. But my co-worker did have several demanding visits in a row with patients and their families. Everyone with a job they enjoy has days like my colleague. But in hospice, the folks you meet—the scared or angry person, the silent or talkative person, the openly sharing or mask-the-feelings person—are all involved with dying. Friends or family members are now visiting or caregiving for a “patient.” Their loved one, whether an infant or an octogenarian, won’t get better.

How can my colleague not wonder if anything that was said truly helped the patient and family? How can you not question any words you shared? If you resist the clichés or platitudes that never bring comfort in a time of dying, then what words can be offered? You prepare to visit homes where a family’s world is falling apart and, before pressing the doorbell, you might contemplate (for a few selfish, exhausted seconds) scurrying back to the car.

Frustrating days.

Hollow words.

Awkward silences. Read More →

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Let Me (Not) Give You Some Advice

Advice

Giving advice starts early!

I resist giving advice.

I relish giving advice.

Both statements are true.

Obviously, I spend considerable time with advice-giving by posting regular essays about hospice. I want those considering hospice (for themselves or others) to have resources during this crucial time. I want to offer suggestions—through questions, concerns, insights—for families currently served by hospice. Whether wondering about odd medical terms or nudging people to be honest about dying and death, I hope my views (advice!) help a few readers.

But advice is inherently tricky. What works for me may not work for you. At times I’ve asked friends if they’d like my advice about a situation they are facing. If they nod assent, I respond with, “Don’t trust anyone else’s advice but yours.” We laugh. We roll our eyes. It’s a joke! However, it also rings true. Follow your heart. Take the time to listen to your inner voice. If you are a person of faith, pray . . . and then be open to the ways the Holy provides guidance. Carefully seek input from trusted family members, friends, and professionals. Cautiously use the Internet with its smorgasbord of bad/good, weird/wonderful, fickle/fact-filled viewpoints. (Which includes my website on advice about hospice!) Read More →

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