Sunday, August 8, 2010

How To Meet Death--Hospice Movement

One of the Religious Sisters working in  hospice  has an  essay in the secular Chonsun Ilbo on "How to meet death." She  begins by telling us that a woman with terminal cancer, a grandmother, was having  problems with acute pain, and the son, greatly distressed, came to hospice for help, knowing that one of the ends of hospice care is visiting the  homes of the terminally ill  to mitigate the pain during the last days before death. 

The grandmother did not want to spend time in intensive care; she wanted to die at home but the pain was making life unbearable. With the hospice visits at the home and the painkillers, however, the nausea and vomiting ceased and she was able to eat. She was fearful of death and, because of being alone for much of the day, felt lonely. One night when she was in pain, the Sister visited. When she arrived, the grandmother said, "You are not  human." Shocked by what she had said, the Sister asked what she meant. She quicky and forcefully answered: "You are not human, you are like an angel."
The grandmother's response made the Sister realize what her job was about. The grandmother, because of her fears, loneliness and pain, was asking for someone to be there with her. It is not only the bodily pain but the mental pain which is difficult to accept. The Sister realized that those in hospice work need to schedule their time around the needs of the sick person.
Four months later, the grandmother was in a critical condition. When the Sister arrived, not only were the children there but all the grandchildren. " Grandmother," said the Sister,
"you are ready to go on a trip. Will it be alright to have the grandchldren send you off?"  At the Sister's suggestion, each child had some words of farewell. One said: " From now on no pain and you will be going to a  good place to rest." The grandmother was to weak to say anything but she acknowledged the greeting with her eyes and nodded. The face of the grandmother was peaceful and this enabled the family to rid themselves of their fear of death. The Sister recommended that the body be washed. The grandchildren washed the hands and feet, and the son and daughters washed the face and body. This was a time to come to  terms with her impending death. The Sister also thinks it's a good time to talk about the funeral and will, telling the sick person that all will be done as the sick person wants. 
Seeing how death was accepted by the family, the Sister reflected on the different ways we have of reacting to a dying family member. In our present society, most of us die in hospitals.  When asked whether they will be  at the side of the  dying parent many simply turn their head away. The feelings of the dying person, in most cases, are not given the importance they deserve.

The Sister finishes the essay by saying that all will meet death; only the time is not known, and that time somewhere in the distant future. Death is like the unborn baby in the mother's womb, dreaming about the new life outside. After death we are also going to another place, not knowing where. Like the new born baby, we also have to prepare for the new life.


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