Welcome to House of Light, a blog produced and managed by the staff of Casa de la Luz Hospice. Casa de la Luz ("house of light" in Spanish) is a locally owned and operated hospice, serving the city and surrounding communities of Tucson, Arizona. Through this blog, we hope to offer education, information, and support about caregiving and hospice care to terminally ill patients and their loved ones. For more information, visit the contact us page.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Death Comes At Its Own Time

“What is she waiting for?” “Why won’t he just let go?” These are questions that are sometimes asked by the family and friends of a person who is dying. Making the decision to choose hospice care and not seek curative treatment is extremely difficult for patients and their loved ones. For some, the hard part may be just beginning.

Hospice strives to help people die with dignity and be comfortable. We also want to do whatever possible to make sure that family and friends understand everything that is happening with their loved one. Sometimes people follow a well-traveled and fairly predictable path during the dying process. Other people create a completely unique road that leaves loved ones confused. Once someone has accepted their own or their loved one’s impending death, often the difficulty turns to the period of waiting for death to come.

In many respects, entering this world is very similar to leaving it. Everyone knows what is coming, but they don’t know when it will occur. Even when the dying person is kept completely comfortable, waiting can be agonizing for family and friends. It also can make loved ones second guess some decisions they have made along the way.

I had a gentleman say after days of waiting for his wife to pass, “Maybe she should have had that surgery…I never knew her will was that strong.” In her case, she and her husband had lengthy discussions about what course of action they should take, and the patient decided she did not want any further procedures or tests. Her husband was following her wishes, and he was struggling because in his opinion, end of life was not coming at the pace he thought it should.

Many believe that some unresponsive hospice patients are conducting a “life review.” Many people live long and colorful lives, and they may choose to take a long period of time to reflect on their experiences, relationships, and travels. Many healthcare professionals believe, and studies have shown, that even when a dying person is not responding, they can hear much of what is said around them, if not everything. They recognize familiar voices, and they wish they could respond. During this time, I suggest family members tell stories and include their loved one in the conversation. Say, “Remember that time, Dad, when we all went to the lake…” Telling stories will help pass the time, and can be a form of therapy for the family.

If your loved one is dying, but the waiting is causing you distress, take comfort in the belief that they are reflecting on their own journey in this world. Help your loved one in his/her mission and on his/her journey, and it may help you also with the waiting.

By Kim Bingham, Social Worker

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