I found myself visiting a man who was hoping to begin hospice. His family was present as well and it was obvious how much they loved him. All gathered seemed to appreciate the benefits of hospice—their loved one could stay at home and they would have a nurse, CNA (certified nursing assistant), social worker, and chaplain on their team. They also were happy to hear that the doctor would visit him at his home—no more laborious trips to the doctor’s office—and that they could call 24 hours a day with concerns/questions. However, when it came time to discus the gentleman signing the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), tension emerged. The man was eager to sign it—he understood he was suffering from a terminal illness and did not want to be hospitalized. His wife on the other hand could not bare the thought—she felt to sign the DNR was to give up on him. Up until this point, they had never talked about death/dying.
I encouraged them to talk to each other in that moment—what were their hopes for the time they had together now? What were their fears? The man in question shared openly that he knew his time was short. He wanted to soak in his time with his family and to die in the comforts of his home. His wife said she was beginning to accept his time was short—but, she was afraid to say good-bye. As they spoke honestly with one another, a theme began to emerge from the husband’s perspective. He could not choose whether or not he would die—his diagnosis was terminal and there were no curative options. But, he could choose how to say good-bye– surrounded by family, and at peace. Though it was difficult for his wife, she finally agreed feeling it was the gift she could give him at the end of his life. This scenario is so often repeated in life–not just in my vocation.
How do you want to say good-bye at the end of your life? The question is not just about who you want to make decisions for you if are no longer able or even about whether or not you want life support. The questions need to consider how you want to be treated. The questions also need to consider what you want your loved ones to know before you die—forgiveness, love and gratitude.
When I first began this blog, I recommended a wonderful resource, “Five Wishes”. Their website states,
Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:
Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
How comfortable you want to be.
How you want people to treat you.
What you want your loved ones to know.
Nothing is easy about losing someone you love or about coming face to face with your mortality. And yet, we each must face it someday. To say good-bye to someone we love can feel unbearable. At the same time, there is opportunity to craft the good-bye in such a way that peace in the midst of sorrow may exist. This document makes a difficult conversation about death/dying easier and provides a way to make your wishes known. Please, take the time to look at it. And please—take the time to fill it out and talk about it.