Few may openly admit it, but harboring the belief or myth that talking about dying will expedite our death or cause bad luck upon us or our loved ones is a common superstition and crosses many cultures. But to have the freedom to express what we want to say to another is important.
Keeping our thoughts and fears to ourselves consumes more energy and possibly impedes the process more than when we have someone with whom to confide and share our wishes and concerns.
When conversations with physicians, caregivers, friends and loved-ones are genuinely honest and heart-felt it can be such a relief to be able to express emotions, concerns and decisions openly.
What is the key which allows this most to happen? The ability to listen. Listening is a skill most of us can improve upon. Sometimes another person isn’t asking for us to help them make a decision, but listening to them talk it through for themselves, to have the opportunity to hear themselves describe what is important to them may be all they need.
I met a 40 year old woman who said she personally had no experience with a loss of a loved one, yet her teenager had lost 5 good friends in the past 2 years. These important losses in her daughter’s life opened the door to have in-depth conversations about death and dying. Being a good listener encourages, and is essential, to communication.
My elderly, dear friend in assisted living tells me she is ready to make her transition, and wishes she knew how to expedite the process. She apologizes for complaining to me about this, but she has no one else to tell. I let her know I am always a willing listener, and then I always leave her with a new suggestion for coping and a visualization to try.
I remembered a prayer I detested as a child when my mother suggested I repeat it before I go to bed. It is said to originate in the 18th century: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. I was remarking to my friend how the prayer scared me as a child, but I could find it comforting today. She agreed and said she would begin reciting it as she goes to bed.
We speak of family members on the other side that she knows are waiting for her. She lowers her voice to tell me that she can’t imagine expressing those words to anyone else. I’m surprised and sad by that statement. I would like to think that expressing such thoughts should come natural, and, also received as naturally. Why can’t we speak as openly about this transition as any other change and life event that occurs in our lives?
My initial Hospice volunteer training goes back nearly two decades, and I do recall that physical comfort is treated as a priority. Yet, to me, if we are not there for a loved one for their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs, then who will be?
If you might want such similar conversations some day with your family, I seriously suggest that you begin now to open doors of communication so you will have established a comfort level to express your thoughts—and be more assured that those who care about you will, in fact, listen.
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