Last week a neighbor friend passed on to his own personal sunset.
For my neighbor the last month was filled with anxiety about his life and what the future was to be for him. During the last two weeks of his life he was racked with numbing pain, because of fast growing cancer.
I can assure you there is no way that you can be calm suffering through numbing pain.
Just a few days ago he finally accepted hospice as his health manager.
He was immediately given the medicine needed to take his pain away, and for a short time he finally seemed to be in peace.
During the time I worked with hospice, I came to an understanding about life that I had not experienced before. I wrote the following column when I was in Arizona working with RTA Hospice; I hope it helps you as you deal with relatives and friends who are about to die or for those of you who are left behind to mourn.
More than a month has passed since I joined the staff of RTA Hospice, filled then with a passion to do something that would make a difference in people’s lives. If anything, I actually feel more of that passion. It’s not necessarily because of my own energy and enthusiasm, but because every day I am buoyed by the strength, courage and quiet dignity of our patients and the strength and courage of the RTA Hospice staff.
We all experience those days when we feel down from just the tension and pressure of “living.” For me it changes when I walk into the in-patient unit here at Hospice House. Whether I’m just stopping in for a short visit with a patient here for symptom management or to chat with a someone whose caregiver needed some respite time and will soon return home, or to visit those who are here because death is imminent and they will soon pass away.
Whatever the reason, my contact with them makes me feel at peace. These are fantastic people who have led fulfilling and varied lives, but who are approaching their own journey with a determination to be in control of their lives until the very end. They have chosen comfort, dignity and peace and are happy to have their families with them. These individuals, full of pride for the lives they have lived make me smile and occasionally shed a tear — as I witness their strength and courage.
Sadly, last week, as I was making my rounds, I realized that several of my new friends had already passed away. I only knew them briefly, but I still felt a very real loss. It made me wonder how the hospice staff — the physicians, the nurses, the personal care attendants, social workers and chaplains — all of whom work so very closely with our patients and their families — deal with the continued losses they face. The hospice relationship — patient and family and hospice staff is a relationship that begins at the very moment a person elects comfort care over aggressive treatment. Our staff becomes deeply involved in the lives of their patients’ and throughout the course of care; the hospice staff becomes an integral part of that family’s life. They provide comfort, they worry…, they often smile and occasionally they cry with them…, and they grieve for them when they pass.
How do we all — families and staff — deal with our grief when a loved one passes.
Some of us handle loss with great stoicism and a determination to show no emotion at any cost. Some are much more emotional and cry — even wail — as though his or her heart is forever broken. The way that each handles his or her grief is unique.
As I thought about my own grief and the grieving that all of our families and our staff face, I realized more fully the importance of the hospice bereavement program. A program that offers grief counseling and support to families both before (if needed) and after death and continues for 13 months.
It’s important to remember that grieving is a normal process, that everyone’s grief is different, and the journey through it occurs within one’s own time frame. But it is something that must occur so that the person left behind can eventually move on with “living.” It brought to mind, the times that I have told someone — out of love and with the best of intentions — to stop grieving and get on with life; that their loved one would not want them to spend their time grieving. Now I know how wrong I was and how sorry I am that I ever uttered those sentiments. It is of utmost importance to keep the spirit of your loved one alive by celebrating the life that you shared.
The word “bereavement” is often scary and carries negative connotations for some, but it shouldn’t. It now seems to me, that after talking to so many of our families after their loved one has died, that bereavement should include a time to acknowledge and celebrate the life of the one you loved. It should include a testimony of the good things that your loved one was or meant to you. Will your sadness be eliminated — of course not — but that’s OK as sadness is a normal part of the grieving process.
Remember, bereavement is not about hiding your feelings away; it’s about honoring the person that you love.
T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.