When Words Are Hard to Find
By Abigail Burnette, Licensed Practical Nurse, Genesis Hospice, Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House
I Can't Find the Words
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
the valiant never taste of death but once.
- William Shakespeare
How do you talk about the full range of human emotion? How do you compose your thoughts about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief and what it is like to see them play out in front of you?
I cannot express what it feels like to find the words to tell a daughter by phone that her father has passed from this life. Here is what I do know: Each of us will depart from this life once.
Last night, we learned that my aunt died. She and I were not especially close. We kept in touch via social media, though. She commented on pictures of my children and we, in turn, openly expressed jealousy of anyone who got to eat what she put on the table. My aunt could cook!
My cousin told me that my aunt died fairly suddenly. The only warning sign was a stomachache a couple days ago. She is gone now. While this is a casual way to put it, “That is that.” This was her one end-of-life experience.
Our hospice patients and their families get this precious gift of preparation. They might only have one day of knowing that they or their loved one is soon to depart this earth, yet they have the chance to brace for impact. Many get time to talk, to listen, and to be together before their loved one crosses that final threshold.
How Do You Talk About...
Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more. - Virginia Woolf
How do you talk about the full range of human emotion?
Because of the blessing of the Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House, I am a part of this journey to a life’s end on this planet. I slip into and out of rooms, doing my best to not disturb ritual prayers or fitful sleep. I explain with patience, for what may be the first time and the tenth time, as to what changes may come and which medications are indicated.
We do everything we can to preserve dignity for people who find that their bodies will no longer afford them the privacy of a shower alone or a solitary trip to the bathroom. As patients or their families find themselves overwhelmed or frustrated and lose their footing, I offer a steadying hand. Their losses and my work meet in a realm of compassionate care that includes support for their grief.
“We have walked this road before,” I tell them. “Let us help you stay upright. Let us carry some of the weight.” As we companion people on this journey toward whatever is beyond this place, I am privileged to stand sentinel at the final threshold.
How Do You Write About...
Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.
And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them. - Dalai Lama
How do you compose your thoughts about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief and what it is like to see them play out in front of you?
Here is what I see as nurse. I see a team of dedicated professionals who remember what an honor it is to be in our particular field of work. I see workers for whom giving comfort for the physical and emotional grief of others is a calling.
I see souls who do not shy away from putting an arm around the shaking shoulders of someone who is afraid to die. I see people who recognize that the waiting period before a person dies is so very precious--and who take care to convey their sincere respect for that period.
I wish so much that my aunt had known that her time was coming and that her family could have been prepared and comforted by a team like ours. It didn’t happen that way. However, for those who do know and come through our doors, this place is a sanctuary of caring. This is why I and the many I work with never cease to extend tenderness to all those in our care.
I can’t find the words; however, I found a calling where my actions communicate the meaningfulness of my work, without so many words, yet still offering gifts of support for those grieving.
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