Notes, News & Musings on Elder Care

20 September 2010 by Susie Stiles, LCSW Published in: On Our Minds! No comments yet

“The Five Things to Say” To Someone Who is Dying
Pat Green from Mercy Residential Hospice spoke to our September Life Care Education group. As always, her talk was instructive and thought-provoking. She provided helpful information about death, dying and hospice care. Pat also shared “The Five Things to Say” when someone is dying.

I love that this impeccable to-do list exists! It provides a comforting embrace of structure and relevance when the abyss of grief and awkwardness threatens to render us speechless, clumsy or superficial. And that’s when we manage to show up, physically and emotionally for this intimate conversation. While avoidance and ineptitude in this situation are fairly common and entirely forgivable, some people harbor regrets about not having said something important- and never, ever again having another opportunity to do so. This can make an already painful bereavement process more difficult to negotiate.

The absolute finality of death is difficult to grasp and hang on to. Stealthy, unconscious denial can linger long after we have proudly proclaimed full understanding and acceptance of terminal diagnoses. And denial’s undertow can persist well beyond the funeral, lurking in the shadows of familiar old habits and anniversaries.

I also believe we fail to say important things because of some magical thinking about how if we don’t say goodbye the person just might not leave. So we avoid it. Is it such scary territory it bears waiting until the last minute, thus reducing the potential for some inexplicable, negative consequence? Perhaps it’s a kind of self limiting maneuver- -the ultimate in “playing it safe.” No matter the causes, it’s a lost opportunity for reconciliation, and for giving and receiving comfort, love and affirmation in two lives.

I know I’m not the first person this has occurred to, but here’s what I keep thinking about “The Five Things to Say”: They make for dandy discussion even when death isn’t imminent. Why wait until someone you care about is in a weakened condition, suffering pain or otherwise under the influence of impending death to tell them important stuff? I am sending a special shout-out to the procrastinators among us!

The Five Things to Say:

Dear KumbayahNation: Blow on the coals and feel the flame burn brighter! Make “The Five Things” a conscious, intentional part of your relationship repertoire. Families, friends and community need this warmth, and this energy.


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