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Providing Comfort is More Than a Physical Thing March 17, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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Although having a conversation about dying is hardly an inspiration there are many important reasons to do so. One of the reasons I was hesitant was I feared bringing in negativity about survival. When K was diagnosed with cancer and began her subsequent treatment, death was not a subject I wanted to bring up. I wanted her to feel no matter what we were facing that she’ll get past it – and I believed she would. I don’t know if this is the “denial” I always hear about, but certainly when things became bad there was little within me that accepted she wouldn’t overcome it – until the final week. But even then I was partially expecting a miraculous turn around.

Thankfully K was more proactive and practical than me. As soon as we had the diagnosis that the cancer was no longer treatable through conventional methods she immediately went to work to prepare for her death. Part of this urgency had to do with knowing she would become increasingly tired and may lose her ability to think clearly for any sustained period of time. We worked together to put things in order which had the extra benefit that it turned out to be a wonderful way for us to collaborate and feel closer. The things we focused on were exclusively practical, i.e. completing a will, deciding on cremation, dying at home, where I would scatter her ashes, what to do with her assets, etc. She thought of every one of her family members and close friends in the process and made an effort to visit them all as sort of a “goodbye” tour.  When her energy became seriously depleted and no more travel was possible she was satisfied nothing was missed.

As part of the preparations we developed a check list for me to use upon her passing. We figured I may not be clear headed at that time and that running through a checklist would ensure I didn’t miss something important or just sit around in a stupor for days trying to decide what to do next; I can’t begin to tell you how wise that was in retrospect. The checklist is in the resource section, but you, of course, will want to create something that is more uniquely tailored to your situation.

Nonetheless, although everything we did was great, there was one thing I hadn’t understood until K became very sick; that all this preparatory work allowed her to be at peace. In the little we could communicate I could tell she was satisfied that we covered everything and there was nothing else to concern herself with except to take in each breath and appreciate the moments she had left. It’s not just the physical comfort that ensures the dying is comfortable, there may be a whole lot of other things that will disturb them mentally as well. Without taking time to discuss what the person wants you may never know and find your loved one agitated for some unknown reason. Some things they may not be aware of right away but may come out much later on the in the process. One book on my reading list is “Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communications of the Dying”.  This is a fantastic book written by two very experienced hospice nurses which can help provide some insight into this notion of mental comfort for the dying. If I had read it prior to K’s worst period it would have helped both of us. As it was, I am grateful that she was astute enough to push and get all the practical things sorted out. It certainly made the process in many ways much smoother and calm both during and afterwards.

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