We're Failing Families

Are We Failing Families At The End Of Life?

Of course we are failing families at the end of life!!

Death and dying are treated as medical events rather than holistic ones! Conversations around the emotional and spiritual aspects of dying and death are completely shut down, circumvented or worse totally dismissed!

In the past few weeks I have received messages from people who are completely alone in their journey. Here’s just one:

“I was told that they were very sorry but there was nothing they could do to help me and that I had less than 2 months to live. I was at that appointment by myself (well, I had my service dog who is always with me) and, having just been told that, the appointment ended and that was that. I was considered to be in such bad shape that nothing could extend my life even 2 more months so there was to be no further contact although the radiation oncologist gave me radiation to the bone marrow site to help with the severe pain. My closes family is 600 miles away so there you go, I was on my own.”

Most of us can’t even imagine how that would feel! Was she even able to process all the options presented to her at that meeting? Were there options presented at that meeting? She didn’t seem to remember so.

I offer an alternative solution as a Holistic Support Specialist, a concierge service. Available to be there at time of diagnosis or poor prognosis and able to follow along at the direction of the patient, for as long as desired. Doctors can hire me to be at these initial appointments and then patients can choose to have just that one contact, or to continue a relationship.

The last phase of life (beginning at age 60 or upon receiving a life-limiting diagnosis) brings the realization of our mortality. The generation currently entering this last phase is unlike any before with more having never married or remained single after divorce or death of spouse. They are also the first generation of DINKs (double income no kids). They also have opted for more solo spiritual paths rather than organized religious paths, thus leaving them without possible spiritual support and guidance during this time. They are also the first generation to have moved across country for work, leaving behind the family support system.

This means that those facing their mortality and their caregivers are potentially doing it alone in many ways. We can’t wait until death is imminent to implement an action plan.

If you or anyone you know has a connection in a doctor’s office or an organization that would be willing to sit down and carve out new solutions to this problem with me I am more than open and willing!

Carol

Holistic Support In Uncertain Times

Carol was the neighborhood mom of my adolescence. Carol’s daughter, Marsha, and my younger sister were the best of friends. While in our youth we were not allies, as we grew into adulthood we grew closer.

I had peripherally understood that Carol had battled a few different types of cancer throughout her life. It’s unfair really, that anyone would have to face multiple cancer fights, but she was known as a fighter. Even in our youth, her warrior spirit was recognizable.

But there comes a day in every warrior’s life when the sword and shield get heavy and it is time to lay them down.

Carol was at peace with her decision to forego aggressive treatments. She was tired and just wanted to BE: BE with her family, BE in her home and to BE with her God.

Carol was at home with hospice care and as so often is the case of only daughters, Marsha was the caregiver of record.

Upon my arrival I found the energy of the house to be chaotic. This is not surprising as our society has created an atmosphere that treats death as a medical event, rather than a holistic experience. Often an individual internally senses when it is time to let go and accepts this new phase of their journey, but in an effort to ‘stay positive’ the family can pressure the patient to ‘not give up’. This fear-based disparity creates a chaotic energy in the environment.

Acceptance is a very different energy than giving up. Giving up is premature disengagement usually stemming from depression. Acceptance is completely different. Acceptance is no longer fighting against the tide, it is allowing peace to take the place of fear and standing in the love of those surrounding you. Acceptance transforms the scared energy into sacred energy.

Carol was in acceptance. Her daughter was in acceptance. The rest of the family, maybe not so much.

Acceptance became our first goal so sacred things could start to happen.

Families need permission to be ok with a patient’s decision. A simple “It’s ok” from someone with experience often opens up a floodgate of relief from self-imposed criticism.

I observed the family as it operated organically. I saw who was comfortable providing what, supported their strengths and nurtured their perceived weaknesses. I could identify small but significant shifts to facilitate the transition from crisis energy to sacred energy.

Once that happened, peace replaced the panic.

I watched as Marsha used the therapeutic ritual techniques I’d suggested to provide holistic support to her mother. Therapeutic ritual techniques not only provides practical emotional and spiritual comfort to the individual, but it also offers an outlet for the underlying helplessness caregivers experience while caring for a dying loved one.

I never orchestrate anything when I am providing holistic support. I aim to be non-invasive and wait for organic opportunities to facilitate sacred moments. When I was alone with Carol I offered spiritual and emotional support and encouragement. When I was alone with family members I listened to their deepest fear revealed and spoke to that.

You can’t know from one moment to the next what will be of significance so I am always looking for signs. While her son was catching me up on his life, I noticed a change in Carol’s face. I knew she was looking through the veil to the other side. She smiled, sighed and said ‘Ooohhh’. I encouraged her to share her vision. She said she saw so many colors. All kinds of colors. Colors she had never before seen. When I asked her what it felt like she said ‘Joy. It feels like joy.’

I saw the glow of her vision reflected on her face.

Carol died surrounded by her closest family members just three days later.

Providing holistic support to those facing a life limiting prognosis whether due to aging, trauma or disease is the greatest honor of my life. I understand the complicated struggle that happens along the journey between life and death. I am comfortable having the uncomfortable conversations and holding space so that families and individuals can find their own path, create their own memories and feel empowered in their own experience.

My greatest wish is to support more individuals and families in shifting from scared to sacred.

Judith Klemos BSW, CTTP, ULC Minister
Healing Rites of Passage
http://www.willowsongmedicine.wordpress.com
219 488 6176