Many of you know I found myself taking that last statement to heart when I took time off to heal from lower back surgery this past April. Although it was the most serious and invasive procedure I have ever experienced it did not make me think of death or dying. Even when the hospital administration and nurses asked about having an Advanced Directive I still did not think about death or my usual "what if" anxiety-driven thought patterns. No. Those thoughts came later when I had what is called a provoked pulmonary embolism one month after my surgery. Then the thoughts of words left unsaid, relationships left in turmoil, and Mom's care needs with my own mortality came crashing in as I gasping for air.
Experiencing Dad's last few weeks alive as his body battled pneumonia made the conversation about death, which we avoided so many other times, become uncomfortably necessary with an intense weight of a pending reality. None of the decisions my sisters and I were faced with were what we ever expected or were prepared to make. Growing up these conversations were usually treated with sarcasm. A distant mindset with the mentality my parents would not have to worry about after death because they would be dead. Not much thought went into what we needed to do or what they wanted as part of their journey home.
Just to be clear, talking about death does not manifest it but preparing for it while giving your family a chance to be on the same page is important. Aside from terminal illness, no one knows when their day will come. We can proactively face death without fear by working with an end-of-life doula like Melissa Wood. Before her work as a doula, she spent the last 25 years in Naturopathic Medicine and Massage, helping people to live a healthier life, naturally. Melissa created her company, Peaceful End of Life, to focus on providing patient advocacy and compassionate guidance toward a peaceful end of life.
You know, no one really wants to think about death and dying, but it is a part of life that is not only inevitable, but it also has the potential to create more stress if it happens when we least expect it. Dad used to joke by saying 'just bury me in a pine box.' Mom said 'Put me in a red dress and play Louisiana-style music to celebrate my life.' That was it. No mention of their details of where they wanted to be buried, whether or not they wanted a specific kind of ceremony, or how to pay for any of it.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Melissa a week before I had my brush with death. Oddly enough I found peace at the end of a moment when I was gasping for air and my mind was racing to all sorts of superficial things like whether or not I would need another surgery, suffer brain damage from lack of oxygen, or need a tracheotomy. Then I started to think about my last words to my husband, children, and extended family. The anxiety in my body kept building as I continued to fight for air.
Then my thoughts started to be about Dad and if this is what he felt before he died of pneumonia four years ago. That is when the calm began to return as I went silent, no longer fighting for air. The superficial no longer mattered. The thought occurred to me that I will either get to see Dad soon or survive this trial and be stronger for it. All I wanted was to breathe pain-free.
The experience made me think of so many conversations that I wanted to have, some that needed to be had sooner than later, and a new profound feeling for not taking a single breath for granted going forward. The idea that I was not afraid to die occurred to me but not being ready yet because of the words left unsaid proved how many different areas need to be covered before going from life to death.
End of life may not be a pleasant thought or an easy conversation to have but it must not be avoided or postponed for a better time. Trying to determine when a better time will be may leave you out of time. If you are not sure where to start then research end-of-life doulas in your area as they are a nationwide affiliation.
Death cafes are also available for those who prefer to talk about the death and dying of their loved ones in learning yet judgment-free zone. Death Cafes have spread quickly across Europe, North America, and Australasia. There are 12,684 death cafes in 78 countries since 2011. Google 'death café' and your area to see if there is one near you in person or online. They are all created on a volunteer basis. If one is not in your area then you may be interested in creating one.
Keep in mind you will benefit from working with an end of life doula like Melissa because of the following reasons:
1) You can expect to experience services such as patient advocacy. This provides help with medical papers and prioritizing your needs with answering questions or knowing which questions to ask.
2) You can also expect a compassionate third party to help facilitate those difficult conversations to keep everyone on the same page proactively or in the medical moment.
3) You can further expect to receive emotional support while creating an end-of-life transitioning plan proactively for yourself or your loved one. Sometimes the truth hurts so having an objective yet compassionate individual to lean on may reduce the emotional stress.
4) Even if you or your loved one is not coping with a terminally ill diagnosis, then having as much time as possible to cover areas we would never think of until faced with an emergency like estate planning, funeral plans, or an emergency backup plan is incredibly beneficial.
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Thank you for joining in and listening with us today. You can find more about this topic on the blog at www.jessicalizelcannon.com. I hope this gave you more food for thought and until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care, everybody.
Intro: Vacation Time by Khris Paradise
Outro: Misty by Khris Paradise