November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and HPP will be joining organizations across the nation to raise awareness for hospice and demonstrate its importance. In our Hospice Perspectives Series, people share their stories of hospice care. While these stories do feature death, they also feature profound hope, compassion, comfort, and joy. They will touch your heart and provide invaluable insight into palliative care and the end of life.
She was given six weeks to live
The year before I was diagnosed with cancer, my eldest sister, Dorothy, was likewise diagnosed. Unfortunately, in her case the cancer spread to various parts of her body within a few years. One spring she was given six weeks to live.
I lived a distance away and was facing my own health challenges, and so I could only rarely visit her. This was very frustrating to me, especially because I knew that in addition to my great love for Dorothy, I had skills, knowledge, and a degree of comfort in companioning the dying, through my work in pastoral and supportive care. I was, however, unable to share those with her fully. I phoned regularly, but that was not enough.
Simple messages of inspiration and comfort
It was out of this sense of frustration and a longing to make a difference that I conceived the idea of compiling favorite quotations, scripture passages, and personal messages for Dorothy. I gave them to her, asking simply that she at least read them through once and then make use of them in whichever way felt appropriate to her.
To my surprise, Dorothy expressed to me a month later that she was reading through the messages every day, as a kind of devotional practice. They spoke to her. She found inspiration and comfort in them. I was so pleased to know that they were making some of the difference I had intended.
I was with Dorothy in her palliative care room in the last week of her life, and at least once a day she asked me to read through the messages I had collected for her. By then, some of the messages no longer seemed to speak to her situation, so we skipped those and focused on the remainder. My sister lived past the six weeks the doctors had predicted for her. In fact, she lived through five more months. I last read to her, at her request and with tears running down my face, one afternoon in late November. She died early the next morning.
The ultimate transition we call death
I originally had no idea of sharing these messages with others. However, when I shared the concept with care professionals, I was encouraged to refine the messages for other people to use in facing the ultimate transition we call death.
If you, or a loved one, are facing death, then my wish for you, as it was for my sister, is this:
May you find comfort and inspiration.
May you find the support you need.
May you move toward acceptance,
and may you find peace at last.
This post was excerpted from Facing Death: A Companion in Words and Images by Linda Watson, M.R.E., M.Div., Th.M., with pictures by Maggie Sale. Copyright © 2009 by Health Professions Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
Read the book!
Drawing upon a variety of spiritual traditions and standard psychological approaches, this book enriches the final days and weeks of life. Breathtaking nature photographs add depth and meaning to the text but also stand alone as a source of comfort.Emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs are addressed in a way that is accessible and broadly applicable. With its extra pages for personal notes, pictures, and mementos, the book will also become a valued keepsake after a loved one’s death.