by francy Dickinson www.seniorcarewithspirit.com
Dear francy: My dad is only 72, he was so active, now he is facing the end of a battle with colon cancer. Depression has set in and I do not know how to lift his spirits. Do you have suggestion?
Yes, memories. When you are facing the end of your life and all seems lost, it is time to turn around and see what is behind you. The friends, the loved ones, the stories of childhood, teen years and early parenthood. The travels, the mistakes – it all needs to begin to tumble out and let him sort through it. You can be the one to open this door and let him know its OK to look back and talk about what was and to release the worries about what will be.
Most folks that face death will discuss things before they pass. Some might say; ” If I die, I do not want a big fuss funeral like Harry.” Then out of the blue their own death happens. This has been reported on by many family members of those that have passed with accidents or sudden death. It is strange to feel they just had a moment in time that opened them up for a possibility.
The others know they are passing they may avoid any talk about death and just ignore their spiral downward. Sometimes it is their personal fear, or the worry over those left behind, that they need to hold on as long as they can to care for family or friends. So, it is even more important that family allow them to discuss things without any judgement. You will find Hospice has many different chaplains that are trained to help the patient work through their thoughts on their own death. These chaplains do not have to be involved in faith, they are trained to do this process with anyone’s belief system. It is just that most of us want to talk about death with a stranger, so we can be open and not judged or hurt feelings in the discussion. So make sure you have someone that can come and encourage those discussions. Hospice is the best option I know of for the end of life care. If you choose other ways – invite a trained counselor into to your home to talk to your dad.
Now, about the memories…that is where you can shine all on your own. Memories help everyone work out thoughts in their minds. I find that almost all of my seniors that I have shared the journey to their passing with – talk about their past with great passion.
I start by asking them where they were born and what their parents were like. Then I ask them about their home and neighborhood. All of this begins the road to stories of young childhood, old friends long forgotten and times that have changed so much over the years.
Each visit I bring up a new topic and try to slowly walk them through their life. “What high school or college did you attend – were you in the military.” If they are shy, I will ask to see their pictures from that time. “Do you have a high school annual, pictures from boot camp or foreign travel shots as a young person?” I just take it easy and as I work, clean around them, tend to them – I encourage them to talk. I try to keep the TV down or off while I visit and just ask them questions in a soft manner. You rarely have to push, the words and memories start to unlock and soon they are rushing out.
You can have a recorder ready if you want to remember something. You can call a family member if they get stuck and wonder what ever happened to old Harry. You can make sure the family recipe for Apple pie that he was talking about suddenly appears in front of him with a piece of apple pie. It is up to you to be creative, but I assure you it can be very special listening to a life progress.
Bad times, sad things they come up and you have to watch some pain in the memory. People they lost, battles, jobs, money they lost. Life is never a picnic for anyone. But just be the observer – no judgement is needed. Allow them to talk and to cry or to laugh, or to just go quiet with their own thoughts.
My mother went through this and in the process by birth was talked about quite extensively. I was the baby of the family…the whoops! She talked about how sad it was for her to finally get her kids in school and her life back and then to be pregnant again. She then went into menopause after my birth and there was depression and a life of raising a very active child. At first, the conversation hit my heart. I was thinking how I always thought she loved me and wanted me and now I find out, I was just a pain for her. It effected me more than I knew because I am still processing it all after a couple of years since her passing. But, I allowed her to talk through it without my comments. I let her tell me her inner frustrations that she had to share and get out. They hurt, they were not pretty on my end. But, it was a process that she had to go through to get things laid out in front of her before she passed.
I do not think there is anyone ready to kick the bucket! We all go out screaming and fighting in one way or another…but we can settle into an ending that is more peaceful with memories. We can see that our life did have a lot of very special times, people and love. We can see that the bad times and feelings are gone and now faced again and tucked away. We can move forward through the physical pain, worry and fear and see that we had purpose and we leave an imprint.
Leaving an imprint, is really important to take note of when you go towards the ending of your life. Allowing your feelings and memories to be sorted and put to rest allows the terminal patient the ability to stay in the moment and be relaxed and ready for the journey.
It may be an emotional ride for you and your father…but facing the memories and the inner fears of death will make the final steps lighter for you both. I know that facing the end of your father’s life and being a caregiver for him, is very hard. You are going to remember this time all of your life, so just take it step by step and do not let your fears keep you from his side.
You can and are doing your best and that is all that is needed. Nature takes care of the rest. Please visit my website and review my CD on death and dying called, “What is at the End of Your Rainbow” – www.seniorcarewithspirit.com
Thank you for all you are doing for your dad. francy