Friday, September 24, 2004

On My Deathbed, Say to Me

The question of "how does one cope?" has come up numerous times throughout this blog. And I've struggled over how to answer that question when finally, the answer came to me. Well, the reason that I can't answer it came to me. I love my job. I don't view it as something to be coped with. Yes, I see some difficult things, I feel sorrow and grief watching some of these patient's die. But this job is incredibly rewarding to me. I see it as an honor to be part of these families lives as they are saying their goodbyes to their loved one. And if I can support them in that experience, if I can ensure that they make peace to the best of their abilities, that is the most beautiful thing I can do... with my life. In a comment, Jenny asked me, do you see your job as a calling? I do. Based on people's responses to various aspects of my job, it is clear that this job is not for everyone. But I am passionate about it.

And not only do I feel special for getting a window into these people's lives at such a vulnerable time and having a supportive role for them in what might be an incredibly painful experience, I am also changing and growing inside as a result of these expereinces.

For example, at some point after I started working with patients who are dying, I asked myself, "what would I want to hear if I were laying in my deathbed?" The question kind of lurked in my brain for weeks before I decided to seriously try to answer it. Here are some of the lines I came up with (and hopefully they would be more than just lines read by the person speaking them to me, but I suppose if I was alone and all my loved ones were missing, a stranger reading some of them would be better than nothing). Okay, some of them are a little hoakey and I'm mildly embarassed sharing them, but what the heck:

You are deeply loved.

You are surrounded by my love and the love of all of your friends and family.

You are forgiven for every and all pain or sorrow you've caused me or to anyone else.

I forgive you.

It's okay to go. You will be missed and you will live on in my heart and in the hearts of all of the people whose lives you've touched. I will miss you terribly, but I will survive knowing I'll always have you in my heart.

I wish you peace. I wish for you to be surrounded by the light of love and the light of life.

See the light before you and recognize it. Rest in the nature and peace of the light.

Trust. Trust as passively as if you were sitting enjoying sunlight warming your skin.

[Some of these lines came from a lecture by Christine Longaker.]

First of all, if I didn't work in this profession, I probably would never have thought about this. And I believe it is important for us to contemplate and prepare for our death as part of our life. We're all going to die. If we keep that in mind, we won't take our lives for granted.

And knowing what I'd want to hear on my deathbed will be useful information at some point. Useful for my loved ones for when I make it to my deathbed (hopefully later rather than sooner because there is more marrow to suck out of this life than I've gotten out of it yet). But it's also helpful for me in working with these patients and families to have contemplated for myself - what would be meaningful for them to hear? They would likely come up with a different list, though there may be some overlap. But I definitely try to help families uncover what potential unresolved issues from the patient's life may be lingering. What do they need to hear to make peace with their lives? So often these patients are unconscious, so we can't ask them what would be on their list. All the more reason to make our own lists now. And to make peace with others now. We may not be able to tell anyone when the time comes what would make our death experience more peaceful or more meaningful and less full of regret.

So... getting back to the question... how do I cope? By accepting life for what it is. Temporary and a mixed bag. As the Byrds sang, there is a time to live and a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to cry. And most of the time, I try to appreciate both.

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