BY: Trudy James
From talking with members at Senior Care Coalition Meetings, I am well aware how much the members of SCC care for their clients. It seems that one must have a compassionate heart to do this work. SCC members not only have the skills and expertise needed in many areas of senior life, but they also listen to their clients. In fact, it seems that sometimes they are the only ones there to listen when clients need to talk about their children, their illnesses, their moves, or their long lives. It is an honor to be “chosen” as a safe person to hear these memories, frustrations and challenges from those we serve.
It is also important to listen when clients want to talk about death and dying. Some of us may be comfortable with these discussions, but most of us are conditioned to avoid or minimize talk of death. In our culture, for many reasons, death has become a “taboo” subject– removed from daily life and conversation until there is a crisis. This is especially true for elders.
The instinctive response when someone begins to speak of their own death is one of reassurance. “You’re not that sick.” “Don’t talk like that.” “You’ll be okay.” “You don’t need to worry about that yet.”
In my work as a hospital chaplain, and as a facilitator for end of life planning groups, I find that seniors often want to think about or talk about their own death, but it is difficult for them to find anyone who will listen—including their children or friends. Becoming comfortable with death as a natural process and discussing their wishes ahead of time can help avoid, diminish, or prevent the later use of expensive or unnecessary medical care a person might not want to receive—especially when there is no longer a benefit from it. They can often live better lives now if they have had the chance to make and discuss plans for their passing.
I will be speaking about this subject at the SCC meetings on May 1 and 15 and hopefully we can have a conversation among ourselves about the issues involved. If we become more comfortable talking with one another about our own hopes and fears and plans regarding mortality, we may be more comfortable when one of our clients chooses us as the listener for this topic. Then we can support them in finding the best sources of information—on hospice, palliative care, organ donation, POLST forms, advance directives, burials, planning their legacy and the dying process. We may even make it possible for them to do “the real work of dying”: life review, forgiveness, saying goodbye and I love you.
I hope to see you at one of the May meetings. Trudy James