Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rethinking the End-of-Life

As caregivers, many of us feel we’ve attended to our loved one’s end-of-life matters when we’ve arranged for the Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, Durable Power of Attorney, Last Will & Testament and other legal and financial documents. Once Hospice has been contacted, we may even believe our job is done. Yet, there is much to be said about the social and spiritual preparations for death and dying that help to more gently and lovingly close this phase of our relationship.

Rethinking the end-of-life moves us from avoidance and fear to acceptance and love, and is both liberating and renewing. Our culture has it upside down. In our own lives, we expect to experience the departure of a loved one as an occasion for profound suffering and grief, perhaps taking us to the depths of despair. These feelings sow confusion and have us believe that nothing remains outside of pain and loss.

Such an outlook blinds us to the continuing role we play throughout the dying process, as well as recognizing the larger truth in the death process. We can begin at the beginning—once our loved one appears to be seriously declining—by having that conversation with medical providers about significant issues.

How much time is left for your loved one? What types of pain medications should be considered when the need arises? When should you invite Hospice into the treatment circle? What is your loved one’s preferred place for dying (home, relative or friend’s home, nursing home, hospital, Hospice facility)? If your loved one is unable to make this decision, the medical directive should include this information.

What kind of funeral arrangements have you or your loved one planned—full burial or cremation; church or funeral home or no memorial at all?  Writing that obituary can actually be done before the loved one passes. Completing these tasks can be remarkably consoling. It also frees you up for the spiritual connection you will continue to have with your loved one.

Truth is not to be found in the emptiness of separation. The truth is that there is no separation. And yet, it is the heart alone that can say it, and we must listen to the voice in silence. When your loved one leaves, his or her space remains empty—the father, the wife, the daughter, the grandparent. We can choose to leave it free, without giving in to worry, impatience and endless grief. Knowing that this same place is filled by your loved one’s presence is the most precious of treasures one can possess. For instance, no one can replace the beloved mother; the deeply cherished husband. Neither separations, nor time, nor even forgetfulness can still the heart that has chosen to love.

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