Archive for Visiting the Dying – Page 2

On Dying and (not) Hearing

listenNear death, hearing is possibly our last form of active connection with the world around us.

Sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing usually fade with age. However, regardless of our accumulated birthdays, diseases (or the treatments for them) often limit our ability to sense anything other than sounds. Chatting, joking, or arguing while a loved one is lying motionless in a hospital bed are likely heard by everyone in the room.

I’ve witnessed doctors coaching siblings to continue sharing essential information with a seemingly comatose parent. And I’ve also witnessed nurses warning friends or family members to be careful with all conversations. The patient may hear the argument. The patient may comprehend that an adult child is berating a mother or father for not “pulling the plug.” I’ve been in rooms when individuals have joked about trivial things, completely ignoring their “loved one.” I’ve also been with people who stood on opposite sides of a hospital bed while debating money, cremation vs. burial, or where they’d have dinner later that night.

What is the last thing you want your loved one to hear?

Will you refer to him in the third person, as if he weren’t present in the room?

Will she overhear a casual cruel comment?

Will you criticize colleagues at work or whine about incompetent teachers at your kid’s school? Read More →

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Sacred Silence & Hospice

SilenceBefore meeting my new patient, I admired her Ford Mustang. The well-kept red convertible was parked on the street, by her brother’s driveway.

The license plate frame declared: Fly Away!

While I didn’t know for sure it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message was a solid clue. Based on the medical charts I’d scanned, she was a flight attendant in her early forties.

This was years ago when I was a hospice chaplain. I recollect visiting her a half-dozen times. From our first awkward handshake to the final time I sat beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship strengthened. I sensed that she learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer recklessly attacked her body. Even at my last visit, her short gray-blonde hair was stylish. Her make-up, aided by her sister-in-law, was impeccable.

In all of our time together, she never spoke one word to me. Read More →

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Wanted: A Hospice Time Cop

I’ve had to literally wade through a crowd that felt more like New York’s Times Square . . .

I’ve had to literally wade through a crowd that felt more like New York’s Times Square . . .

My thoughts today are not only for patients and their caregivers, but also (at least a little) for those who aren’t “hospice appropriate.”

But first, I’ll focus on the dying. Several months ago one of our physicians at a hospice team meeting warned about . . . overstimulating patients.

Sometimes a patient seems oddly agitated and unsettled. Maybe their usual calm demeanor has been replaced by caustic comments or awkward silences. If they usually spend much of their time resting, why are they so wide-awake? Or have other unsettling actions or attitudes been observed?

Is a particular medicine the problem?

Has the dying process accelerated?

Has the pain from their terminal illness abruptly increased?

Those questions (and more) are possible and should be evaluated.

But it could be overstimulation.

Huh? Read More →

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