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Why do I write this blog?
I want to reduce the suffering I witness among the dying and those who love them.
Okay, that’s a pretty lofty goal, but I believe in setting big goals and then hammering away at them.
This passion of mine to help those who are experiencing death started when I was 21 years old, a senior in college, and my 90-year-old grandmother was dying. I was constantly questioning my mother and my aunt about the choices they were making (putting in a pacemaker, keeping her on IV fluids when her veins were collapsing) to extend my 90-year-old grandmother’s life. It was so clear to my grandmother, and to her doctors, that she was actively dying. My mother later said that neither she nor my aunt or uncles were prepared to face their mother’s death. In hindsight, they made choices that were not really in their mother’s best interest.
Flash forward 20+ years, and I’m an Elder Law attorney, answering the same type of questions over and over again, advising terminally ill clients and their families, counseling my friends and, of course, within my own family. I realized that the questions we have about dying and death are fairly uniform across cultures and counties.
So I thought I’d write a little blog site and see if anyone out there might be interested in this type of information. I have never marketed this blog, there are no sponsors, there is no money made in doing this work. I am just grateful that sometimes my readers leave comments letting me know that these posts truly helped them or those they were caring for at the end of life. And four years later, this blog has approximately 400+ views a day, averages 10,000 readers a month, and is read regularly in 143+ countries.
Some of the more frequent questions I get asked are these: how can you tell if someone is dying, so I wrote the post Is My Mom Dying? to help you if that is your concern. What kind of medical support can you get through hospice, What is Hospice? How Do I Get It? was developed to address basic questions about hospice services.
If you want to know more about rituals of preparing for a death and rituals after death, please check out the most popular post on this blog site Sitting Vigil. In Sitting Vigil, there is a long list of actions you might consider taking if you are sitting with someone who is dying.
If you want ideas on how to visit someone who is very ill or is dying, check out the post Visiting a Sickbed or Deathbed: What do you bring, do or say? This post was inspired by my young hairstylist, Vanessa, who wanted to know what she could “do” when visiting her great-grandmother who was dying. It seems that we feel awkward visiting someone who is ill or dying because we don’t know what to do to help them feel better. This post is extensive in listing ideas of how to make a visit more comfortable for the person you are visiting and for yourself.
It is my experience that we Americans have odd, preconceived notions about how easy death will be, and, collectively, we take a head in the sand position that no planning is necessary. Right?
When I ask elders what their plans are for dying, they usually say they plan to go to bed one night and not wake up. My usual response to that statement is this: okay, that’s a great Plan A, but what about Plan B? What if you slowly become increasingly frail and need help in order to stay in your home, any thoughts on how that would work? This question is usually answered with a shrug of the shoulders.
But we Americans should not despair. We are not alone in this lack of knowledge about death as a process. I know this for a fact because this blog is being read in more than 143 other countries around the world.
One of the other questions I get asked all the time is this: if I have not gone to church or been a religious kind of person, can I still have a funeral? I wrote a post on Creative Celebrations to answer this question and to encourage people to make their own plans for a gathering of family and friends, either before or after their death. I tell my clients that gatherings can be as simple as potluck lunches or dinners with people sharing memories, or as elaborate as any ceremony they would like to design. The main point is to write your plan out on paper and give copies of the plan to those who will take care of your body and your wishes after your death. Alright, you can put that into an email if that’s easier for you, just remember to tell the people receiving it that they need to archive it to disk….and remember where they saved it.
There is also the need to sort out the overwhelming feelings you may experience when a person who hurt you, abused you, and/or abandoned you is dying or has died. I wrote a post on this topic because it is rarely talked about as an experience in death and dying. We are not comfortable talking about past abuse, or current domestic abuse. The facts are that physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and abandonment happen every day in every country, and the victims need a way of working through the death or dying process of their abuser. It’s a time when people feel a mixture of relief or renewed anger at the abuser or abandoner, or they remember fear as memories of past hurts flood in. Victims may also grieve for their own loss of the time they spent loving someone who did not take care of them as they should have. When Your Abuser or Abandoner Dies: How to Cope may help with suggested resources if you are facing the death of someone who hurt or left you.
If you are asked to come to a deathbed of someone who hurt or abandoned you, the post Anger Stops You from Visit to a Deathbed? Suggestions may be helpful as well because it gives a real-life example of how one young man faced his abuser on her deathbed with both dignity and compassion.
And then there is the suffering after a death, the loneliness, the grief and, sometimes, the anger. Some families pull together during or after a death, others break apart. There are two posts that particularly focus on grief, one is Grief Is Not Selfish, and the other is Death: Will It Bring Out the Best or Worst In You. Both of these posts address the emotions that come with the death of a loved one.
The other goal of this blog is to be a resource so that no one feels they are alone in facing their own death or the death of a loved one at any time of the day or night. If you think that someone you love is dying and it is the middle of the night, you can get to this blog and read Is My Mom Dying?, or to find out what hospice care can provide to support you take a look at What is Hospice? And How Do I Get It? No one should be alone or feel alone in facing death.
If you are dying, the information on this blog site might help you develop a better plan for how you are cared for physically and emotionally, whether you are dying at home or in a hospital or nursing home. The goal of this site is to provide you with information so that you can have a less stressful and, maybe, less painful experience with death. The posts in this blog may also help you with difficult talks with your loved ones during this time of your life. For instance, the post How to talk about death even offers a suggestion for what to say, how to bring up the subject of death for a conversation. In the post Death Café: Finally! Americans talk about death you can read about community meetings that are springing up across the world to openly discuss the dying process, death and all of the issues that come into play as we prepare for death.
If you live in rural America, you may find this blog particularly helpful. We do not die equally in America. If you live in a rural part of this country, you need to plan well ahead of time for support and care at the end of your life, especially if you want to die in your own home. Support services such as home health and hospice care may or may not be readily available if you live in a small community in a more rural state.
When it comes to death, one old saying stands true: One who fails to plan plans to fail. In the context of death, failure to plan ahead, failure to understand the local resources at a time of death, failure to speak in detail with the treating physician, all could lead to unnecessary pain for the person who is dying and a high degree of stress and anxiety for their loved ones.