Saturday, April 16, 2005

Death Defying; Death Denying: Must it be so?

Terminal illness is something all of us will encounter at one time or another in our lives, whether it be an issue for our loved ones, ourselves or as healthcare providers. Many people, dare I say more accurately, "most" people, feel uncomfortable around patients and family members who are anticipatorily grieving and oftentimes, that is because of our own fears and concerns about death and dying get in the way. Our own attitudes and beliefs can interfere in our coping and care giving capabilities if we don’t recognize and understand those fears and concerns. So important is this task and its results that many researchers of frameworks of growth and development culminate in the achievement of coming to terms with death to achieve true self-actualization.

Birth is a process we all experience; at least among those of us reading these words! The majority of human beings are born with others in attendance who are there to assist and care for not only the mother but for the child being born. So, too, are we there to assist and care for the patient who is dying and when we do so, we have an opportunity to participate in a very profound and meaningful experience.

Caring for the terminally ill is at the core essence of who we are as healthcare providers, as family, as a people; it allows us to afford the dying and families the utmost of empathy and compassion as we provide support, service and presence.

Though we all come from different life experiences and cultures, there is one thing we all have in common. That is our humanity. In caring for the terminally ill, one of the most important element of rendering care is to treat the dying always with the awareness of that commonality. If we do that, we will naturally be practicing the golden rule of care-giving: treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

The rewards of caring for the dying are vast and unique. For most, it is an unforgettable experience. Few situations in life provide us with a more profound sense of intimacy than to be included in the act of a loved one's or a patient’s dying. However, because it is so profound, it is important to make sure that you are caring for your own stress and upsets because if you don’t, you can easily become overwhelmed. Therefore, be sure that when you care for a terminally ill patient, that you are in close contact with your healthcare provider team and find ways to appropriately express yourself and discuss your concerns. In order to give care, whether it be for the terminal patient or the patient with asthma and arthritis, we must always find ways to replenish our own wells before they run dry.

It is often said that a society is measured and ultimately judged upon how it treats their poor and those of lesser circumstance. Though this is a stand alone truth in and of itself, I wonder if a more important measure might be how it is that society treats those engaged in the final act. Fear, lack of knowledge about the dying process, cultural values, media and beliefs about the afterlife all determine how those coping with terminal issues ultimately experience the process. When so many of the resources in this country alone are focused on the prolongation of life, which in and of itself is not a bad thing but a curious one indeed given the epidemic outbreak of compassionate Christianity, what tends to get lost in the living of it is the celebration of the final act of dying. The denial and inability of the Schindlers to face the death of their daughter perhaps may serve to stir others to give more thought to this critical issue and if we can, it could determine that one day, this society will be measured and judged gently, kindly. And I am one who would like to think that "Hope is (still) on the way."

In closing, I ask you to consider this one question.

We are all terminal, are we not?


Ann said...

And I am one who would like to think that "Hope is (still) on the way."

Me, too, Mary. Me, too.

JoannF said...

I wish for all whose time it is to face the final moment, and their family and friends, will find at their bedside someone with a heart as big and a spirit as beautiful as yours.