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Posts Tagged ‘on death and dying’

Is there any subtle way to ask, “If you have a choice, where would you prefer to die?”  There might be, but I can’t figure it out, so I am asking in my rustic way, “Have you thought about where you want to die?”  Assuming you’re not in a tragic accident (God forbid) you will have a choice.

The reason I ask is, my father-in-law passed away earlier this month and his choice in his advanced directive was to “go home”.  Three of us (all grown-ups)  had to read it over several times before it was clear to us.    No where did he write “I want to die at home ” but all of the sentences in his advanced directive read  “If __blank__  is happening, my preference is to go home.”  And every response to every medical situation presented was “to go home.”  Finally we got it.  We should bring him home.

Both of my parents passed away in hospitals.  Advanced directives or even conversations about how to die weren’t very vogue at the time.  I’m pretty sure dying in the hospital was what my father wanted as about 1 week before he passed, he stood up and said, “I need to go back to the hospital.”  It was the day after Christmas.  We pulled the car into the snowy front yard, right up to the front door so he wouldn’t have to walk but a few steps, and in my heart, I knew that this was the beginning of the end.   We were all still pretty young,  in our teens and 20’s and I think it would have been too difficult for him to leave surrounded by us and the amazing life he had created for us.

For my mother though, I think she might have wanted to pass away at home.  The beautiful home she had created.  It was Easter, the garden was blooming, the house was clean and ready for newness, and while she lay dying, she could not speak, so she wrote, “I want to go home” or “When can I go home” I can’t recall exactly and we weren’t sure what she meant.    Since she was a deeply spiritual person, we thought she might be implying her spiritual home.   She died very quickly, so most likely she would not have made it all the way home even if we had begun the process.  And dying en-route in a gurney or ambulance would have been dreadful.  We did the best we could at the time.

Since my experience was hospitals, that was all I knew.  I couldn’t imagine dying at home was a good thing.  I was wrong.  For my father-in-law it was perfect.   He had designed many aspects of his own house, built parts of it himself and lived there for over 50 years.  It was the keeper of his joy, his pain, his loves, his work, his life — it was the perfect place for him to pass his spirit into it’s next adventure.  Since we had discussed the art of shape shifting at different times, in some moments, I imagine his spirit simply shape shifted into the house and became the house.  He loved it so much.  I mean, really, I don’t know where his spirit is, but it sure doesn’t feel like it has gone too far.

So now I learned that bringing someone who is terminally ill home, can make death feel a little less scary —  like just another part of life.   Like many people, we moved his hospital bed into the living room so he would be a part of the daily happenings in the house.  Life moved on around him and when he was conscious he could hear us, smile at things that were funny, growl at things that hurt, and participate in life with even just his consciousness, his beingness, participating as he could until the very end.    We had a professional attendant 24/7 and daily visits by the hospice nurse, and over-care by family so he was well taken care of.  Almost every breath of his last days was witnessed by someone nearby who cared.

In those moments I became aware of the beauty of breathing. How profound it is to even take one breath.  Time slows down near the end – every second feels like a minute, every minute feels like an hour.  A lot of love slips in during those moments.   Secrets of the universe can slip in during those gaps and my recommendation is that you be there if you can.

For death, most likely we’ll need the Baby Boomers to bring a forbidden subject into the light and I am grateful again to be living in their shadow.  Boomers have a way of making anything that happens to them a big deal.  And I appreciate it.  They are great teachers.  So as they near death, I imagine they’ll again carry the torch of speaking up about the previously taboo subject.

This article in the LA Times on why end-of-life discussions are important has a lot of great things to consider:  http://ow.ly/11uH1

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Mother,
      My heart looks for you everywhere.  When I arrive at the airport.  When I enter your house.  Looking in the dining room I see Regina – and for a second – my heart thinks she is you.  My heart skips a beat and a flash of excitement runs through me – only to be sobered by reality.
     My mind imagines that our grief over losing you is greater than your grief over losing your mother and I know that is not true.  I’m embarrassed at how little we knew about how to assist you through that experience.

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Take your time with the belongings of the deceased. do not pressure yourself to “handle things” and do not let anyone else pressure you to “handle things”.
Touch everything you want to touch.
Acknowledge everything you want to acknowledge.
Remember everything you want to remember.
Treat it all with love and respect.
You are not just cleaning out a house, or a closet. You are being given the opportunity to walk through a life. Treat it with respect and love.
One friend of mine has yet to clean out her mother’s clothing and belongings a couple of years after-the-fact. She said she’ll go visit her dad and see a scarf or sweater or something else of her mother’s and take it home with her. She said she can feel her mother’s energy when she wears those things and it’s a little piece of her mother with her.
How beautiful.
Taking home little pieces like that has made the change smoother and a little easier for her.

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Elisabeth Kubler Ross gave the world a great gift in her life’s work.
I will repeat her five stages of grief here and I recommend you purchase her classic book
“On Death and Dying”
The Stages:
1) Denial – This isn’t happening.
2) Anger –  Why me/us?  It’s not fair.
3) Bargaining – Just a little more time.
4) Depression – Why bother with anything?
5) Acceptance – It’s going to be OK.
You may experience only 2 of these, or you may experience all 5.  They may go in order, and they may not.  You can read more about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ work here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model
And you can purchase seriously discounted versions of the book here:
http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=Elizabeth+kubler+ross&sts=t&tn=on+death+and+dying&x=82&y=6
Or on Amazon her books are listed here:
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=elisabeth+kubler+ross&x=0&y=0

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Leave the bedroom and perhaps the desk of the deceased undisturbed for as long as you can.  You can feel their presence among those things for quite a while. 
     We invaded Mother’s room probably a little too early.  This was brought to my attention by my sister, Theresa.  She was right.  Mother’s shoes were where she had left them – some clothing, her hairbrush.  These things become very precious when you know they are exactly where your loved one left them.
     One friend left her husband’s clothes in his closet for almost 2 years, and didn’t move them until for practical reasons, she needed the closet for the way her new life was growing.

My mother, though, while trying to put on a brave face for her children, wanted to begin discarding things after less than 2 weeks. It was clear to me from the tones in her voice and the way her body language and words did not match what I saw on her face, that this was not what she wanted to do. It seemed rather to be what she “thought” she should do to show us her strength and how to carry on.

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When death arrives, do not be too strong.
There are many people who want to do things for you at this time.  Let them.
Let them do every little thing they desire to do.
And ask for assistance.
Ask for assistance with every little thing you have to do.
     I asked a long-time family friend to ride with me to the health-food store very late one night and she was pleased to do it.  It seems like such a simple thing – ride with me to the store – but we had time to talk privately in a way prior circumstances had never allowed. 
     Across the room, while sitting at the dining room table, a friend heard me say I wanted a soda, and “poof”, seconds later it was by my side.  (See?  A little piece of heaven.)

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Dear Mother,
It’s so hard to know at this moment whether I’m doing “the right things”. Spontaneous, right action is beautiful when people allow it and trust. Everything else is pure hell.
I can only imagine how many times it was that you were trying to express the depth of your love for us, your beautiful intelligence and how our family culture made fun of that. I hate that part of our way of interacting. Genius rarely has a comfortable home.
The chorale director wants his idea of a musically perfect funeral which is his right — and the family must be honored. I’m wondering how you do both so everyone is happy. Father Tank said, “Well, you can’t.”
Artists are so tempermental. What should I do? I want your love expressed. Period.
I remember your splendid example to me so many times to ignore unfair things and to take “the high road” knowing it will all work out in the long run. I have done that many times – that “high road” seems a little overrated to me right now. Right now I want to fight for what seems right.
I love the soul of who you are. I love the woman I looked up to as a little girl. You were so beautiful and perfect. Well, to me you were perfect. A movie star in a most beautiful movie.
Thank you.
Thank you for the beauty you gave us in so many forms — the food, the furniture, the flowers, the happiness, the magic, the love.
Thank youk for taking me to Italy. Thank you for noticing my talent and for believing in me. Thank you for the love and the most splendid example of softness you showed me in the last moments of your life.
I want to make sure people feel that now. That they don’t have to wait for a death.
I never felt that before. That was the real thing. Nothing else mattered. The fullness of your love finally expressed. The fullness finally expressed with no fear, no worry, nothing – only the fullness of life for the sake of the fullness of life.
I see now that I wasn’t who you needed me to be at times. I’m sorry for that. I wonder what my cheapness of though and heart would do such a thing? Why do we withhold our love from others? A bargaining chip perhaps? Ppplllbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb.
I know you are here – I feel you. I could always feel you in Chicago, in Austin, in Dallas – everywhere. I imagine this will be different. I keep thinking how I wanted to show you off to the world.
You are so beautiful. Thanks for letting me sing so softly in your ear – thanks for letting me say I love you. Thanks for letting me love you. What a gift.
Thanks for singing to me. Thanks for filling our house with music. Thanks for filling my heart with harmony. Thanks for all of your support, belief, disbelief and laughter.
Thanks for showing me your power that day when the door blew open. Just think what else we can do – just imagine. It’s going to be fun.
It’s my favorite time of day now – early, early morning. Precious time before the rest of the world wakes up. Remember how I would get up early in the morning to have breakfast with you and Daddy? It was the only time I could have you both to myself and I loved that. I’m sure you figured that out. Thanks for letting me be there.
Uh-oh. Here it comes. Everybody’s waking up now. Time for the rambunctious part of the day. Including children there must be about 15 people in the house rightnow. Our version of normal.
Thank you for helping me to see the rhythms of natural law. Thanks for helping me to respect them – and thanks for your patience while I tried to defy them.
You’re a genius. You are the blissful wizard. I am honored to be your daughter. I love you. I’m looking forward to the future.

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