What is a harder conversation topic with elderly parents – money or death? If you guessed death, you get a gold star. Why do we find it so very difficult to discuss the inevitable? Surely we’ve all come to grips with the fact there is one thing certain about life and that is death. We can embrace the ending by learning to embrace the life that we still have with our loved ones until the times comes when they are no longer with us.
Often it is not death that frightens people but the process of death. Will there be pain, suffering and will it linger? Fear of the unknown often is what ties us up into a pretzel of NOT wanting to talk about the ending. What if we could learn to open up conversations so that everyone could be more prepared for the unknown, more accepting of death itself, and in turn make the process of dying a compassionate and loving experience? Sadly, too often I see insecurity indecisions and pain overtake what could be a sweet time of compassion, filled with memories in itself. Memories to embrace and treasure.
Most families have a considerable amount of unfinished business in this arena. Here are some tips on how to open doors of communication, come to grips with what some call a “long goodbye”, especially those living with dementia or other chronic illness, and certainly lastly how to make the goal of acceptance and compassion be first and foremost in all planning, decision-making, and conversations.
- Make your wishes known. That means we listen to our loved ones, preferably long before we have to make difficult decisions for them. I want to interject here that we all need to understand that we should be guided by Plans A, B, and C – understanding the Life Plan A almost never is a reality. That said, as care partners and families we do our very best to fulfill those wishes, but many circumstances may make that impossible. Far too many times I’ve heard promised made to loved ones that they will be able to pass at home. When the time comes, and that is not able to be fulfilled the family member feels horrible guilt. Remember, we should be open and honest in lovingly expressing that we will do all we can to fulfill their wishes, but that it may not be possible for a number of reasons.
- Spend more time embracing the moment of the ending rather than funeral plans. Why is it that we agonize over what songs will be sung and flowers delivered – when our loved one needs our compassionate hand to embrace and hold at this moment? Far too long we have gotten priorities a bit confused would you agree? What if we put that energy and emotion into what can be embraced int he here and now?
- Remeber that one’s feelings and emotions remain intact, although declining, until the end of life. Response to touch, expression, love, music, even nature can have profound effects on the dying person. Talking “around” a dying person is as much a sign of disrespect as it is a sign that they’ve been dismissed as a person.
“Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.”
― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who care for them. She is co-creator of the Compassionate Touch® program for end-of-life care. www.AGEucate.com