When someone you love is dying, it hurts that you cannot protect them or change their outcome. When you know your time together is precious and limited, how do you deal with their pain and yours? What do you talk about or not talk about? How do you connect in meaningful ways, if they don’t feel like talking?
I needed answers to these questions to help me face the impending death of someone I love. We’ll all get the answers in highlights of my radio interview for A Lasting Love with Joanne Harvey, a hospice social worker who wrote the book, Dying To Live: Embracing The Journey.
HF: You’ve written that death does not have to stun us with crushing grief because we can prepare for it and honor this important part of life. How do you do this when you’re heart is breaking because you’re forced to lose someone you love?
JH: By taking a deep breath and putting yourself in the mental position that we all die at some point. By feeding this person with memories and life stories you’ve shared, you will soften the blow.
No one wants to say that last good-bye, but because we all die it’s really important to say the things we feel about them. Tell them how much you’ve appreciated them and loved them and cared about them. This is your true gift to the dying person and to yourself after they’ve gone, as you remember how you did share those wonderful memories with them.
HF: Tell us why you titled your book, Dying To Live.
JH: When a doctor tells you that you may have months to live, this means you still have life to live. It means that even though you’re dying, you can live as much as you can by gathering people you love around you and by doing the things on your bucket list so you can proudly say, “I’ve lived.”
HF: What if a doctor tells someone you love to get their affairs in order and prepare to die in 6 months or less, and you want them to use alternative treatments that are reversing diseases in other countries? Do you encourage them or support their decision to accept the doctor’s life-ending prognosis?
JH: I’ve had many patients who were told they would die in six weeks, and they’ve been sending doctors holiday cards for 10 years because they did not die. So doctors never really know how much time we have.
I encourage you to give the patient the information about alternative treatments that could lengthen their life. Then it’s up to them to decide whether to explore it or not. We must honor their journey. We only are walking beside them on their journey. We may want them to fight, but they may wish to die naturally.
HF: Let’s say you want to wrap up unfinished business before someone dies. You may want to resolve a painful issue by getting or giving an apology. Do you have the conversation or protect a dying person from even more pain?
JH: If it is something they did to you and they don’t bring it up, then it’s difficult to resolve this issue. If it is something you did to them, then you have the right to bring it up and apologize to them.
You really have to look at what benefit you get or the person gets from this. If you know it will upset the person and they are fragile and don’t have much time, then you may have to couch it and not injure them.
HF: How do you connect in meaningful ways with the dying person if they don’t want to talk?
JH: If someone older is passing, be sure to ask what they were like in their youth to get their stories. If someone doesn’t want to talk, you can start a conversation by mentioning a lovely time you’ve shared together. Just tell them a true story. Even if they don’t say much, you can watch their face and their eyes as you bring up a time when they were truly living.
No one wants to be remembered for the last few days of their life as they’re working to cross over. Most of us want to be remembered for the vibrant person we were years ago or even months ago. All we leave behind is the love, laughter and life we’ve lived.
HF: So sharing vibrant memories is a simple yet profound way to bring comfort and joy to someone who is leaving, because it shows them you will carry them in your heart forever. These are sacred moments that will heal your heartbreak and theirs.
You’ve written that many people die in needless pain because they don’t use hospice care. How does hospice support the dying person and their family?
Get the answers in part 2 of my radio conversation with Joanne Harvey on ALastingLove.net
And you can find Joanne Harvey at www.DyingToLiveStories.com She invites you to call her with questions at 530.459.5464 because a short phone call may take pressure and weight off your shoulders as you face the final journey we all must make someday.
Because life is precious, do not wait to love deeply, truly and passionately.