Dying in Peace

Most of us, by the time we reach adulthood, have dealt with someone close to us dying. It remains one of life's greatest mysteries. One moment that person was alive; the next all that is left is a lifeless body. Yet as Bernie Siegel MD, nationally known author and speaker on the topic, tells everyone ''We're all gonna get off the planet somehow. Illness is not terminal, life is terminal.'' So why do we still greet this physiological transition of body and spirit with such distaste? The answers are complex but let's see if we can unravel at least a piece of this puzzle.

Of course, the most obvious reason is having to deal with our own loss, and possibly for the first time face our own mortality. As we grieve, we may actually say things like, ''Why couldn't it have been me?'' Let's face it, we're sad and angry that we got left behind. How could they have abandoned us this way? The loss of love in our lives demands that we move on. It forces us to grow, to change, to stretch ourselves emotionally, sometimes physically.

Although there is a gradual shift going on, and schools of medicine now actually offer courses and specialty degrees in terminal illness, death and dying remains a major stumbling block for the physician that still views death as the enemy, a failure. If they won't accept it, how can we expect patients and families to accept it.

More than any other single factor the family's ability to stay present physically and emotionally, to be willing to be in pain for another sentient being, will impact the grace and ease with which that person makes their transition. On the other hand, no one should take on 24-hour care singlehandedly for their dying loved one. This only serves to drain two bodies and spirits instead of one. Take stock of your own reserves and abilities, then use them to effect change and comfort for you and your loved one. If you can't cook, never could, don't undertake making meals. Let someone else take on that task. Instead, if you like to read and your loved one liked books try reading to them. It's the simple things that will bring them peace. Believe me, most terminally ill individuals have their priorities straight and will greet your efforts openly and graciously.

When friends and family make offers of help but don't know what to do, give them a job. This will lighten your load and make them feel like they contributed in a positive way.

Make sure that if you are the primary caregiver that you get some reprieve from your duties. Allow family and friends to stay while you slip out for some rest and regular meals.

Statistics show that more people die in hospitals at 3am than any other time. Most experts believe they are waiting until no one is around. If a terminally ill individual believes they need permission from their loved ones to die, they will simply wait until no one is around and then slip out the back door--so to speak.

I once watched a family keep vigil day and night for their dying loved one, which isn't uncommon. The patient rallied during the day and they decided to go home to sleep. They were called back the next morning at 5am. All day the wife sat quietly weeping asking her husband not to die. Exhausted and hungry, she stepped out for some fresh air and something to eat. Her husband died quietly not 15 minutes after she left the room.

Most experts agree it's okay to give your loved one permission to die, and that it is necessary. It's the same as saying I understand and I'll be all right.

Dying is hard enough on everyone involved--those who die and those who are left behind. Know that you are not alone and don't have to face this trial alone. Look for a hospice, ask at your church, lean on your friends and family and other community social agencies for the help you need. Just don't go it alone!

Till next time, Rebecca

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 26, 2001

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