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The Observer of Death

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As life is born, unfortunately we are born to die; as sad as that is, it is the truth. There can be many things that happen to a person throughout a lifetime both good and bad. But as we age, we start to feel nostalgic, blessed, cursed, loved, unloved, successful, worthless, fulfilled, or regretful about the situations in our lives. I personally have felt the full spectrum of emotions, although lately have settled on blessed, loved, and nostalgic with an illness that sometimes makes me feel frustrated, a tad unproductive, and overly emotional.

Those of you who personally know me, know that I love with all that is in me and no matter how I feel I always try to put my best face or foot forward, you also know that I can be brutally honest, and completely real. That being said, I recently have had several friends pass while dealing with terminal illnesses and I have been observing family behavior. I am not by any means a specialist, therapist, or personally in your shoes, if you are making decisions regarding your loved ones illness. As a casual observer I have spent time discussing these things with my husband and parents and desire to pass on some advice that I personally would like practiced on myself say an unfortunate turn in my health or hopefully in that time of natural old age.

I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t crush me to hear of my spouse, child, or family member being diagnosed with a terminal illness and I know that someday I myself will have to practice what I so passionately feel. As spiritual as I am, I know that there is a reason that God chooses to heal some but not others, and I trust Him that He can heal even after breathe has stopped if He so chooses.

If and when a loved one is diagnosed, the battle can be very hard on everyone. It is not a diagnosis to be ignored or taken lightly even if you are spiritual you must plan for the worst case scenario. Denial only hurts those around you that will be left behind. Say God chooses to take you or your loved one home. It really is best to talk over decisions before you are even diagnosed make a plan, talk to your family, set up a will, let your wishes be made known, life can be unpredictable, don’t let a room full of opinionated, emotional people who talk to each other during the holidays come to your bedside and make decisions for you or confuse your decision maker.

Hard questions must be asked,
“Do you want to be resuscitated, say your heart stops, or your breathing?”
“If you are put on a ventilator or feeding tube but your brain is dead, do you want us to fight for you?”
“Do you want to stay in the hospital until you pass or would you like to be home and pass in comfort?”
“Do you want the kids in here to see you in this state?”
“Can I tell you it’s okay to go, instead of pleading with you to hang on although you are in pain and everything is failing?”
“I know it’s hard to hear, but I want you to know what the Dr. is saying about your situation, Do you want to know?”
and, “Do you want us to let you go?”

The hardest things I have observed is a room full of people who have never discussed death: people to afraid to ask hard questions for fear of upsetting or depressing the patient, they buzz in and out talking to visitors and doctors outside of the room trying to protect their sick loved one, even while their loved ones may be able to somewhat communicate their desires, waiting so long that the loved one slips into a state where their wishes can no longer be heard. They ask for everyone’s opinions: “What should I do? Mom, Dad, sister, cousin, best friend, Pastor …” all the while never outright asking their loved one, saying, “If I let them know they are dying, they will stop fighting or feel depressed.” For me personally, let me in on it. If I am only able to wink, move a finger, nod, tell me what is going on, it’s not like I really don’t know I am getting worse. Ask me if I am in pain, or if you can rub my back or massage my temples, pluck my chin hairs, file my nails, hold my hand, rub my feet, cry and tell me how much you love me, or if I have ever encouraged you, or frustrated you, what you’ll miss about me, but also how you’ll live on, your plans for the future that I may never see, how you’ll be okay and so will I.

If worse comes to worse and I am slipping away, ask me, “Do you want us to let you go, Do you want to stop fighting?” and if I say yes, please just allow me to have pain meds and quit torturing me with surgery after surgery, ventilators, feeding tubes, and breathing machines. I may feel defeated and say yes. If the doctor says there is any chance of a recovery, fight for me, but if he says the chances are grim, then you know what to do. If you have children and you want to spare them from me in my ill state and keep them from seeing me near death, I am sorry for you. They can keep their happy memories but allow them to say goodbyes, especially if they are my own. As with any family member encourage them to come say goodbyes, let there be a closure—no regrets. It teaches us humility, compassion, honesty … reality, known as the life cycle.

Undoubtedly, we will all feel numb, confused, sickened, lost, angry, and sad if we are handed a diagnosis for ourselves or our loved ones … and as hard as it is, we must focus to let our wishes be known or heard. If it is you handed a diagnosis and you know your decision maker will not be able to comply with your wishes, make sure they are written and given to a friend, other family member, or power of attorney—something to be presented to our decision maker to make him or her focus.

If you are the decision maker, breathe. Focus. Ask  yourself, What would my loved one want and if they have wishes, as hard as it may be to abide by them …ultimately, you know the right thing to do. There really is a lot more entailed in the preparing, like children, work, life insurance, and finances, but in the moment when faced with loss, focus on your loved one, they understand if you work, they understand if you can’t be there every minute but when you are there, just communicate, conscious or not they understand tell them what is happening even if they are medicated and asleep, you’d be surprised at some reactions you will receive if any.

I am writing this because the last three friends I’ve lost have all tried to communicate their wishes and I have seen their families in denial and my friends sad that they were not heard. At the worst point, I’ve asked them when the family leaves if they would like to be allowed to die. A simple nod, a teary eye, a hand squeeze … lets me see they are ready even though their families are not. All I can say as a bystander is there is nothing more heartbreaking than denying ones release of pain for your own selfishness, fear, or closure.

As hard as it was to let you go, I often think on you and know … I loved you!

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