Archive for Visiting the Dying – Page 2

5 Questions to Ask a Hospice Patient

On conversations that matter . . .

What can I say?

With some hospice patients, even when they are friends or family members, we’re unsure of how to keep a conversation going. It may be easy to begin a chat about today’s weather or yesterday’s news, but what about having a conversation that matters?

And for other hospice patients, maybe when we’re first-time visitors from their faith community or a new volunteer from hospice, we can also have doubts about what to say after the introductions and mentioning that it’s hot (or breezy, humid, snowy) outside.

Here are a handful of suggestions for deepening a conversation with someone in hospice care.

(And below the suggestions, if you want to skip my optimistic examples, I reflect about a recent “failed” visit with an acquaintance nearing death.)

5 things to say to someone you know and love . . . Read More →

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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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