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The Comfort of Silence March 31, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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When my Grandmother was facing her last days from breast cancer she was being cared for in the hospital. Her children had passed away before her (my mother was one) and her husband had passed away when they were young. I went to visit her one day and she was in that nebulous state which I don’t know whether to call a coma or just an internal world in which it is easier to rest and gradually withdraw while the outer world passes by.

The TV was on in the room and a golf tournament was playing. A golf tournament! I don’t think my grandmother played a stroke of golf in her life and I was certain she had no interest. I suppose the thought someone had behind turning on golf might have been that the commentators talk quietly but at the same time provide a way to fill the silence in the room; still, it just seemed so odd.  I couldn’t help think about how often people show discomfort with silence and how it would be easy to assume someone dying has the same discomfort.  Anyway, I doubt the golf tournament was providing much entertainment for grandma.

I noticed with K that as she got weaker she would spend a lot of time in a semi sleeping state. One afternoon she had been lying on the bed for 3 or 4 hours. I asked her how she was doing and she responded positively; she was in fact awake.  I thought she might want some entertainment, but she didn’t. She was content to lie there; no radio, no TV, no book, no music. I respected this and felt I understood it as well. (more…)

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. (more…)