Thursday, October 2, 2008

a good goodbye

I’ve been watching these videos about end of life and palliative care as part of my orientation at Hospice and it wipes me out emotionally just to watch the videos. I haven’t even gotten to interact with patients and families yet and I’m drained. The whole world of hospice and palliative care is the heart-wrenching work of helping people have a good death and helping their families process their grief afterward. It’s watching a person go through the process of saying goodbye to someone who has been their world for so many years, a mother, father, child, sibling or spouse. When I think about it that way, I wonder why I am drawn to this work. As someone who dreads goodbyes, I’ll be in the midst of the hardest goodbyes someone people will ever know.

I feel privileged to enter into that intimate time with families, to help people have a good goodbye. To be a part of their world as they find meaning in the life they lived and the lives they touched. The end of one’s life is a sacred time of making sense of it all. I think it’s really important to have that time with family, to say the things you need to say, to tell your family you love them, to be in as little pain as possible as you leave this earth, to reach a point of being ready to let go, knowing it’s time. To not feel as though your loved one was torn from your fingers, but that each finger was gently unfurled until a point when you are able to let go.

One of the videos follows a couple through the whole process of terminal illness and the end of life process. They followed them through the nightmares of the medical system and treatments, through the pain and prescriptions, through the long and drawn out process of death and most beautifully through the devotion to one another in the midst of a heartbreaking goodbye. The wife was by her husband’s side through it all. She did everything in her power to help. She made him hearty home-cooked meals to try and keep him from losing weight so fast. She cried because nothing she could do would make him well. He explained to her that it may not make him well, but it made him better. He was better for her love. I’m a softy when it comes to love stories and you better believe that I was sobbing by the end of this video as she recounted their last moments together at home. They were lying side by side in bed, early in the morning. His breath became irregular which is a signal that death is close. She thanked him over and over for choosing to spend his life with her. In his last breaths, he muttered, “love you, love you, love you.” Rip my heart out why don’t you. Seeing this kills me, in the best way possible. I am just in awe when I am in the presence of that kind of love.

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