Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hospice Volunteer and Nursing Home Story: Dying to Die (Video 4:28 mins.)

This post includes an excerpt from my book, "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes.”

Are you ready to die? It’s something we all will do. Each person has a choice about how to respond to the inevitable. Many people assume that nobody really wants to die, but I have known several hospice patients who looked forward to death. Take Bella (pseudonym), for instance. She said she was all ready to go to heaven, but she kept putting it off because she wanted her death ritual and other plans to be just right.

“I won’t be here when you come next week. I’ll be in heaven. You can call ahead if you want to be sure I’m not here. That way you won’t make a trip for nothing,” she warned me.

“Thanks for telling me, Bella. I’ll just come anyway and see for myself,” I responded like it was the most normal thing in the world. In recent weeks, whenever I left from visiting her, Bella said it was the last time I would see her. She said she would be dead before I returned the following week.

When I returned and she was still alive, I’d say, “Well I guess you changed your mind about dying this week.” Bella always had a good excuse. Sometimes she didn’t want to miss some festive activity like the annual Christmas party at the nursing home. But most times, it was for practical reasons like getting funeral, burial, and other after-death plans in order. She wanted her children to clean her house thoroughly, so relatives and friends could go there to fellowship after her funeral. Cleaning entailed sorting and packing clothes for charity. There were several other tasks beyond actual dirt removal. Her various excuses for not dying continued for months.

Bella even invited me to join her on her death journey. She said it might be more fun if we went to heaven together. I declined this invitation by explaining it just wasn’t my time. Besides, she already had a bunch of people there waiting for her.

But one day, Bella’s warning came true. I received the hospice phone call saying she had died. I smiled to myself and said, “Good for you, Bella! You finally did it!"

What about you? Are you having death conversations that will help you and others prepare for death? Do you think about what death really means to you as a patient, a caregiving relative, or a healthcare professional? This video encourages us to have more of these conversations and prepare for our own and others’ deaths. Using the “D” word is long overdue.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
"Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

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