Only in U.S. do people think dying is optional

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This headline, “Only in American do people think dying is optional” is a quote I stole from Lissa DeFreitas, Bonner General Health Community Hospice’s volunteer/bereavement coordinator.

She may have borrowed it from someone else, but the point is that it sets the tone for what I want to talk about today. Dying is unavoidable; we all know that, don’t we? So why are we reluctant to talk about it?

Opening a conversation about dying isn’t easy. Perhaps a little easier for people who have had loved ones pass on, particularly of a long illness, but it seems to be ingrained in our makeup that dying is for other people. We read obituaries and think, “Boy am I glad that wasn’t me,” or my husband or my child, but we don’t think about what if it was?

Ask yourself, what would you want to do if you knew this was going to be the last month you’re going to be alive? What’s on your bucket list? What are your goals? What do you want to do?

DeFreitas and I were talking about an event that’s in the planning stages called Living and Dying Well. She told me about a series of podcasts that she, along with other experts on the subject of living with a terminal illness, palliative and hospice care, made this spring. If you want to hear them, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you do, go to www.bonnergeneral.org/hospice-podcasts.

When my mother was told her cancer had metastasized to her lung and that the treatment would be arduous and unlikely to prolong her life to any extent, she called hospice. It didn’t take long before everyone was saying that she gave up. But, in fact, her hospice team helped her to put everything into perspective and for all intents and purposes taught her to live.

Her hospice nurse became her confidante. She told the nurse things she never told anyone. Not her children, not her husband, not her own mother. She talked about her feelings and frustrations. She talked about what she wanted her life to be like knowing there were only a few months left.

In the podcast, Dr. Nicole Pelly, a palliative care physician from Kootenai Health said about end of life decisions, “It’s not just a time to put finances in order, but relationships as well. Not just to put your wishes down on paper, but to have conversations about what you want and don’t want. Who do you want in the room? Who not in the room?”

And, she said that more important than putting your wishes on paper it’s about having conversations with the people close to you, so they understand why you’re wanting what you do.

Tami Feyen, BGH Community Hospice/Home Health Manager added that calling in hospice doesn’t mean that death is inevitable at that moment. “It means that they’re in a process where a cure is probably not going to happen for that illness or injury that they have.”

One of the myths of calling hospice is that the patient is giving up. “People often confuse hospice with the very end, Feyen said. We hear it’s a death sentence. It’s a finality.

“And, in reality it is a part of a beautiful journey and the sooner hospice is able to come in and help to partner with that person and their family, their loved ones, their support system, the greater that journey can be.”

Thanks to the hospice team my mother was able to continue teaching and working in her field of geriatric social work. She tied up the details of her life and then proceeded as if death was an option.

Think about this, you can either take control to figure out what you want to have happen in your last days and with help from a hospice team, you can focus on living, not dying, or you can let your children, friends or strangers figure it out for you. Your choice.

Then ask why choose BGH Community Hospice? Because it’s about you and those you leave behind. BGH Community Hospice is a non-profit organization that besides helping with end of life, also provides grief counseling and support groups for adults and children. Check it out.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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